Taking a different path: Health issues have forced Reagan OGrady to retire as a player, but the former Sudbury Wolves defenceman isnt done with hockey…

Reagan OGradys easy smile and affable manner were fixtures at Sudbury Community Arena for roughly two and a half years.

And though he received some difficult news recently, the former Sudbury Wolves defenceman is pressing on with the same positive outlook that helped define his time in the Nickel City.

A recent graduate from the OHL who had plans to attend university and potential to play professionally, OGrady nonetheless announced his retirement earlier this week, following a diagnosis of transverse myelitis, a rare neurological disorder in which the spinal cord becomes inflamed, causing numbness, pain and other, potentially serious complications.

The toughest thing about this happening is I cant go out on my own terms, OGrady, 21, told The Sudbury Star. Its kind of tough to sit here and say that hockey has been taken from me, because I thought I had some stuff left to prove.

OGrady capped his junior career last spring with the Saginaw Spirit, helping them reach the Western Conference final despite playing two rounds with an injured shoulder. He underwent surgery soon after and was staying in Pittsburgh when his father Brendan, was hired to coach his hometown Lindsay Muskies. OGrady returned home to help out behind the bench, and to work occasionally with the local minor midget squad.

He began to feel run down as early as last June, but didnt sense anything was seriously wrong until early February of this year.

We were on the bus back from Trenton and all of a sudden, my legs and my feet started to go numb, OGrady recalled. Im like, this is strange, like that feeling you get when youre lying on your arm and it goes numb, but I didnt think too much of it.

I went to my usual spin class and the next day, I went to practice and I had been wearing my full gear at the time, to get ready for the upcoming season, and about 25 minutes into practice, I skated up to my dad and I was like hey, I think theres legit something wrong here. He said go to the hospital, see whats going on.

I went in on Tuesday and I was released on Friday afternoon, two MRIs later, a CT scan later and a spinal tap later. It was a lot comprehend, what was going on, and they didnt know what was wrong. They said you have to see a neurologist, but its not going to be until September.

He had returned to Pittsburgh, where he was staying with a local family and training for a return to the ice with the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers, hosts of the 2021 University Cup tournament, but continued to have symptoms.

Then, last Thursday, came the news that will forever change my life, in that theres a lot of things Im going to have to change to live a healthy lifestyle now, OGrady said.

That includes giving up hockey, and contact sports in general. People with transverse myelitis sometimes develop multiple sclerosis, and the risk can be higher if they suffer an injury.

He plans to be physically active, but hell have to carefully monitor his condition, with the help of his doctors, especially for the next couple of years.

Like I have said to all the people who have reached out to me, I have always been a competitor, always been a warrior, and I have been through some up and downs and I have overcome some adversity through my career and through my life in general, OGrady said. This is a bump in the road, but at the end of the day, Im going to land on my feet. The NHL was obviously my dream job and my goal, but at the end of the day, I cant sit here and say I cant reach it, because theres different avenues through hockey that are going to take me down my path now.

Hes still determined to work in the game, whether as a coach, manager, in player development or scouting.

I have just taken some time to process what has gone on and find some positives through all these negatives that have come up and have been a road block for me.

Despite his youth, OGrady can look back on a long list of accomplishments in the sport. A first-round pick in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, he went on to play 285 regular-season games for Kingston, Sudbury, Mississauga and Saginaw, collecting 23 goals and 49 assists. He won gold at the OHL Cup minor midget showcase and silver at the OHL Gold Cup tournament, before representing Canada in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2014.

He went on a deep run in 2019 with the Spirit, who pushed the eventual-champion Guelph Storm to seven games before finally bowing out. Despite his injury, he had two goals and two assists in the series.

Those things cant be taken from me, OGrady said. I can sit here and wonder what if with a bunch of different scenarios, but my mentality is Im going to get back on my feet and figure out my next steps and work towards another goal that I have set for myself.

Being a hockey player, the hockey community really rallies around you, and I have found that through all the support I have received (this week) and Im very thankful for everybody I have crossed paths with. For me, its all about giving back and I think the reason a lot of people have reached out to me is because of the type of person that I am, always giving back. I have always been told by mentors and role models, people who have played in the OHL or played professional when I was a little kid, that those things go a long way, and I think that has really been ingrained in me and its something I want to do now, to continue the tradition, continue to give back as much as I can.

Reagan OGrady of the Sudbury Wolves helps out at the clubs summer hockey camp in Sudbury, Ont. on Tuesday August 15, 2017.Gino Donato/Sudbury Star/Postmedia Network

A winner of community service awards in both Sudbury and Saginaw, hes proud of his work with children who are sick or have special needs, and treasures the relationships that were kindled as a result.

He has fond memories of visiting Nicholas Fex, a Sudbury youngster who was born with tracheoesophageal fistula and needed several surgeries as a child and teenager.

It brought me joy when I went to see him in the hospital and gave him that jersey and we sat there and played NHL, OGrady recalled. It really brought me back to what life could be like. I cant play hockey any longer, but Im happy that I have done these things and its not about giving me credit, its just about trying to be a good person. I cant instill that enough in people if youre a good teammate, a good friend, a good kid, life after hockey is going to be set up for you, based on the connections and relationships.

Those connections have only been strengthened in recent days, since OGradys announcement.

I met a lot of great guys in Sudbury and I still chat with them, my billets were awesome and I still go up to see them, and its so awesome to see, even after not being in Sudbury for a couple of years, guys are still reaching out to me today. Its a special feeling. I have heard from parents of guys on my team, some billets from Sudbury, people I went to high school with up there. It gives you a greater appreciation for life.

bleeson@postmedia.com

Twitter: @ben_leeson

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Taking a different path: Health issues have forced Reagan OGrady to retire as a player, but the former Sudbury Wolves defenceman isnt done with hockey...

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