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Just one of the guys

By By: Tyler Mason, 02/13/11, 10:30PM CST


Faribault High School sophomore Quinn Ohlsen (center) is joined by the FHS boys hockey team during the Falcons’ team picture prior to the start of the 2010-11 season. (Photo provided)

Life hasn’t been easy for Quinn Ohlsen.

There are the weekly trips to the doctor’s office. The daily medications. And once the 17-year-old gets to school, it’s off to speech and physical therapy sessions.

But when Quinn gets to hang out with the Faribault High School boys hockey team, there’s a sense of normalcy. He’s one of the guys.

“It lights up his world,” said Quinn’s mother, Ruthann Ohlsen. “It normalizes his day. These are experiences that he’s never had before.”

Ohlsen said doctors refer her son as a “medical conundrum.” Quinn doesn’t have one condition, but rather a mix of many. As an infant and young child, his seizures were so bad that his mother feared he wouldn’t survive them. On top of a seizure disorder, he has Tourette Syndrome, IgA immune deficiency and is susceptible to getting sick. As a result of all his medical issues, Quinn is developmentally delayed.

Until a few years ago, he was active, said his mother. He would run around and throw the football.

“When his body was so active, I called him my car without a driver,” Ohlsen said.

But between the end of 2008 to early 2009, Quinn’s health deteriorated to the point where he became a quadriplegic. He’s now confined to a wheelchair, with no control of his body from the waist down and limited ability with his hands.

None of that has changed Quinn’s outlook on life — or his passion for sports. Two years ago, FHS boys hockey coach Brad Ryan, a physical education teacher, met Ohlsen in one of his adaptive physical education classes.

Instantly, the two formed a bond.

“I think it’s kind of the male friendship thing,” Ruthann Ohlsen said. “In special education traditionally, you have a lot of women who are in the field. I think that was really kind of a cool draw, something that was special and different.”

While Ryan and Quinn bonded at school, it would turn out they had something else in common: Hockey. Ryan invited his students to come watch a Falcons game. After Quinn attended his first game last season, he was hooked, going to as many as he could.

What draws Quinn to the sport, his mom said, isn’t the scoring or the checking. It’s the things that the rest of the fans at Faribault Ice Arena take for granted.

The sound of the skates scraping on the ice. The banners hanging from the rafters. The cool temperatures emanating from the rink.

Such was the case earlier this year, when Quinn was invited onto the ice after the Falcons took their team picture. As his wheelchair was pushed out onto the rink, the players joined him.

“They started skating around him. There was the swirl of wind and the smell  of the arena,” Ohlsen said. “Quinn smiled. That’s what he remembered.”

“He’s a pretty cool kid,” Ryan said. “He’s pretty attached to that hockey team.”

His interaction with the team at games and practices has led to many friendships. At school, members of the hockey team will see Quinn in the hallway and give him a high five or stop to say hello.

“Quinn’s a great kid,” FHS senior Jack Helgeson said. “It’s pretty cool to get to know him and let him be a part of our hockey family.”

“These kids, as he’s come into their world a little bit more, they’re just more accepting,” Ohlsen said. “It’s simple things, but it’s huge.”

Before a game last season, Quinn had the honor of joining the Falcons in the locker room before the opening faceoff. He made a pre-game speech, and although it was brief — his right vocal cord is paralyzed — it meant a lot to the team.

“He mostly just listens to what we have to say. He also chimes in every once in a while,” Helgeson said. “It’s good to get feedback from him.”

“It just broke the silence and that intensity,” Ohlsen said. “It brought the guys back to perspective.”

Indeed, sharing a bond with Quinn has made the Falcons realize how fortunate they are to be able to lace up their skates and take the ice in front of their fans. It’s something Quinn will never have the chance to do.

“He’s been through quite a bit as a kid,” Ryan said. “When he’s around the arena ... all of a sudden he feels part of it. It really puts a smile on the kid’s face.”

“We think we’ve got problems every day, (but) we can walk and do everything,” FHS senior captain Sean Lipinski said. “Quinn, he’s loving life. ... It really makes you think how much you have and be grateful for it.”

Quinn continues to receive medical treatments. In July of 2009, he began taking L-dopa — common among patients with Parkinson’s disease — which his mother said has slowed down the progression of her son’s condition. Because his condition is so rare, however, doctors don’t have a firm idea of what Quinn’s long-term prognosis is.

Yet he continues to make his way to the ice arena to support his Falcons. After all, he’s one of them.

“Our car without a driver has grown up and matured,” Ohlsen said. “He’s a fine young man who just loves life and we celebrate the moments because the moments are all we have.”

— Sports reporter Tyler Mason may be reached at 333-3119.