'I've fallen in love': Paralyzed Bronco player finds passion for water sport

SASKATOON — Jacob Wassermann spent most of his life on the ice before he fell in love in the water.

The former Humboldt Broncos goaltender, who started in the net when he was nine, was paralyzed last year when the junior hockey team's bus and a semi truck collided in Saskatchewan. Sixteen people were killed.

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Now 19, Wasserman has put hockey behind him and switched to a new sport — adaptive water-skiing.

He's shown so much promise that he is to compete next month as a prospect with Canada's adaptive water-ski team at the world championships in Skarnes, Norway.

"I've fallen in love with this, that's for sure," Wassermann said in a interview with The Canadian Press from his home in Saskatoon.

"Before my accident I had no idea adaptive water-skiing was even a thing to do."

The sport involves a specially modified wakeboard attached to a ski with a cage that the skier is strapped into. Athletes are expected to compete in three categories: tricks, slalom and jumping.

"I've been favouring trick so far," Wassermann said. "You do lots of spins like slides, 180s, 360s. And once you get better, you can start jumping the wakeboard and doing spins while jumping."

Wassermann was turned on to the sport last summer by current national team member Nolan Barnes, who was paralyzed in a car accident nine years ago.

Days after the Broncos crash, Barnes befriended player Ryan Straschnitzki, who was also left paralyzed. Barnes visited Straschnitzki in the same Saskatoon hospital where Wassermann was in a coma. When Wassermann gained consciousness, Barnes also started visiting him.

"I had a lot of support when I was injured and knew how much of a difference that made in my life — having some light at the end of the tunnel," Barnes, 27, explained.

Straschnitzki hasn't given up on hockey, and is working to make the national sledge hockey team.

Barnes said he understands Wassermann's love for the water.

"Getting out of a wheelchair for a second and ripping up and down the lake and feeling the freedom — you don't really feel disabled sitting out on the ski," Barnes said.

This year will be the fourth time Barnes has competed at the world championships. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help pay for the cost of the team's trip to Norway.

Wasserman said he went water-skiing for the first time last summer. He used to be a lifeguard and had no fear of the water, but riding waves on a ski was new.

"I took a couple of pretty hard falls but you've gotta fall pretty hard to learn."

Barnes took him to a competition in April in Florida. And Wasserman did well enough that the national team decided to take him to the worlds.

"They were able to bring me on as a prospect, just to get a feel for it and to see what the adaptive water-ski world is like," Wassermann said.

"Hopefully in the future I can ski on to the team as an actual member."

In the meantime, Wasserman plans to start studies at the University of Saskatchewan in the fall and become a nutrionist.

Considering Wasserman was an elite athlete before the bus crash, Barnes said he's not surprised at his progress in water-skiing in such a short time.

"He's driven and he wants to do really well. I'm just glad to be part of that journey and hopefully he and I will be sitting on the podium some day."

— By Bill Graveland in Calgary. Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

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