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Fighter, husband and father lost his life after 20+ career concussions, 3 years ago today

6 novembre 2019
"As a former fighter, we never lose the mentality that if you back us into a corner, we are going to fight our way out. And this may be the fight of many of our lives. We are fighting for a better quality of life." - Orillia, Ontario native Ryan Crowther wrote this 8 months before his death, on this day, November 6th, in 2016.

Crowther had suffered over 20 concussions during his hockey career and, at 37, was taken from his friends and family, way too young. He was an enforcer throughout his junior hockey career, beginning in 1995/1996 when he played for the Orillia Terriers of the OPJHL and ultimately concluding in 1998 when he suffered a severe, career ending concussion in an OHL preseason game.

Once his junior career had grinded to a halt, Ryan took several years off from the game to pursue an education. He would eventually return to the game, of course, joining the Australian League to find his love for the sport again before returning to North America. Once he returned home, Crowther spent 4 more seasons with 5 different minor league teams, once again in an enforcer role, fighting regularly. During the 90's, the long-term effects that repeated head trauma had on players were still somewhat unknown. Many still suffer the effects to this day, with little-to-no hope of recovery.

Crowther never made more than $500 a week as a player. He also worked as an Electrical Groundsman before his symptoms worsened to the point where he was often bedridden. The pain was so intense some days that it would cause his nose to bleed. Other days, standing up would often result in an almost immediate fall to the floor due to extreme dizziness.

By the time medical science had finally begun to establish what the long-term effects were, it was already too late for Ryan and many others like him. He attempted to reach out to other players who were experiencing the same symptoms that he was, even reaching out to the President of the CHL to grow his list of names to build a support group. In an interview with The Athletic's James Mirtle, he told the reporter, "I find that there is nowhere for someone like me to turn. Two weeks before your article came out, I was in contact with (CHL president) David Branch via email. I reached out to him because I thought he could help. I wasn’t asking for money, I wasn’t asking for help finding doctors, all that I asked for was information on other players who were going through the same thing that I do so I could talk to them. Kinda like a support group. You know our old macho attitude we tend to keep things in. But I am at the point now we need to talk to other guys dealing with what I am. Mr. Branch basically said thanks for contacting me but we cant help you."

As with countless others who have suffered repeated concussions during a time when they were not properly diagnosed or treated, Crowther would ultimately self-medicate, which led to his death in 2016. According to the official report, Crowther died in a taxi cab, early in the morning during a trip to Chicago with a minor midget team he was helping coach. A toxicology report found a fatal mix of drugs and alcohol in his system.

Crowther was survived by his wife, Sarah, and their two young daughters, Ryley and Kylyn. Despite having lost the love of her life to the game, Sarah doesn't stray from it. Her and her daughters continue to play hockey, with Ryley wearing her dad’s number 14. The Crowthers will be at Thursday’s Leafs game in Toronto against the Vegas Golden Knights as part of an annual remembrance of their husband and father. Ryan's favorite NHL team was the Leafs.

“I’m definitely not someone who says avoid the sport,” Crowther said. “That’s not it at all. I think it’s just about understanding the risks and going from there."

Source: The Athletic's James Mirtle
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