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By Brian Drake
About six years ago, Condors captain Sean Venedam played the puck along the boards in the waning moments of a game in Utah and took a hit that forever changed his life.
He’ll be on the ice today, skating with a prosthetic lower right leg in a Condors almuni game at 5 p.m. at Rabobank Arena as part of the 10th annual Condors Fighting Cancer Hockey-Thon.
“It’s going to be good to step back on the ice (at Rabobank), I’m looking forward to it,” said Venedam, who helped the Canadian National Amputee Hockey Team to a gold medal at the World Championships in Finland in May. “This will kind of bring some closure to everything.”
Venedam, 37, suffered a shattered tibia and fibula when he was hit by Utah’s James Stanford in that Feb. 15, 2008 game.
He had emergency surgery in Utah, was flown back to Bakersfield two days later, and complications, which eventually led to an amputation more than three years later, had already set in.
“I kind of new early on something wasn’t right,” Venedam said. “I knew it deep down. You go with the flow and wait. Hope for the best. Thats all I did.”
Then-Condors coach Marty Raymond lured the veteran Venedam to Bakersfield in 2005 to be a leader on and off the ice and that he was. He had 50 points in 46 regular-season games that first season and 14 points in 14 playoffs as the Condors came up a win short of making the conference finals.
He led the team the following year with 74 points and was having another strong season (45 points in 39 games) when the injury occurred.
The Sudbury, Ontario, native and his wife, Jenny, a nurse, owned a home in Bakersfield and Venedam was already thinking that starting a coaching career in Bakersfield might be a possibility after his playing days ended.
Everything came unraveled.
During Venedam’s first year of treatment, a visa snafu led to Jenny having to leave her job and return home to Canada.
By the time Venedam returned to Canada a year after the first surgery, a doctor had told him amputation might be the best solution.
“I said, ‘No, I want to give myself a chance here,’” Venedam said. “I was still in the early stages of this, and I just don’t want to cut my leg off.”
Three and a half years — and multiple operations and broken bones later — Venedam was ready.
“I thought, over time, it would progress, get better,” Venedam said. “That just wasn’t the case.”
Another doctor suggested amputation, and this time Venedam gave it some thought.
Venedam asked four questions: Will I be able to walk? Will I be able to run? Will I be able to golf? Will I be able to skate?
The answer was yes to each.
Three months later, Venedam was on crutches with yet another broken bone when the doctor called and asked if he was ready.
“I said, ‘Yes, we’ll do this.’”
On June 21, 2011, Venedam became an amputee and soon started down the road to recovery.
“I came home from the hospital with my leg for the first time in late August (2011), picked up my skates from the basement, sat on my porch on put them on,” Venedam said. “My wife asked me what I was doing. I told her the World Championships for amputee hockey were in May 2012 in Finland, and I wanted to make it”
So Venedam learned to skate. Again.
“It was hard,” he said.
He also learned to surf.
“Surfing was way easier to learn.” he said. “I think I got up on the board on the fourth or fifth try. Skating, that’s the biggest thing for me, but it was probably the most frustrating, too.”
He owns three prosthetics — one for walking, one for running and one for skating — and is living the type of life that he was deprived of for so many years.
Venedam said a friend of former teammate Mike Hofstrand asked him how he adapted and the answer was easy.
“You either do it or you don’t,” he said. “The best thing about it is you’re learning something new all the time. You learn how to walk again, learn how to skate again learn how to walk upstairs again, cycle again. Anything you took for granted you have to learn again.”
And now he is learning how to be a business owner and father.
Venedam is a partner in the Skaters Edge Source for Sports sporting goods store in Sudbury and became a first-time father on Dec. 15, 2013 with the birth of daughter Harper.
Mom and baby made the trip to Bakersfield for their first family outing.
“We never expected to have kid, never thought we could so it took us by surprise at first,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun, a breath of fresh air.”