Injured youth hockey player continues road to recovery
It is a story of courage, character and rising up in the wake of adversity.
Monroe native Mikey Nichols had his life change last January when he suffered a spinal cord injury during a hockey game. The injury has left him paralyzed, relegated to a wheelchair, and undergoing intense physical therapy five days a week.
The devastating injury would overwhelm most of us, much less a teenager. But, the 19-year-old refuses to be defined by it nor will he give in to it.
Mikey’s attitude has been amazing and upbeat that his father, Steven, often has to remind himself just how much progress he has made.
"I look back at old pictures and things like that and I say, 'wow,' at how far he's come, and it really is amazing," Steven Nichols said.
There are, of course, some bumps in the road, but Mikey is able to put the negative behind him and focus on just being a normal 19-year-old kid.
"There are some days that are tougher than others, but for the most part, he fights through them day by day by day,” his father said. "And I'm so proud of him."
The one thing Mikey does miss, his father admits, is playing hockey. Even though the Nichols’ have been forced to live most families’ worst nightmare, they have maintained such a positive outlook at attitude.
Steven just urges coaches and parents to teach kids the right fundamentals to hopefully prevent sports injuries.
"A lot of the injuries are definitely preventable if the players are taught the proper way to do such things," Steven said. "Play fair, play clean, and good things happen that way."
He also wants parents to make sure kids are well-equipped with the best equipment and gear to help protect them.
Besides having extremely strong mental toughness and being surrounded with a terrific support system, Mikey has maintained a strong relationship with former Rutgers football player, Eric LeGrand, who is recovering from an injury of a similar nature.
Steven calls LeGrand a "big brother" to his son and said he is an inspiration.
Mikey is approaching two major benchmarks in his recovery and quest to maintain a normal teenage life. He is learning how to operate a specially equipped vehicle and will go for a license soon. That will lead to more independence and a perfect segue way as Mikey begins taking college classes at Middlesex County Community College.
The teen has devoted a lot of time and energy to the Reeve Foundation, where he and LeGrand are putting to raise money and awareness for spinal cord injuries.
His father said this recovery would not be possible without the community support and donations.
The family has retrofitted their home to accommodate Mikey's needs and he has settled in into his new space. An elevator will soon be installed to allow for some of his therapy to be done at home.
Steven said, overall, Mikey just wants to live a normal life as a 19-year-old. While many look to him as an inspiration, he is not looking to be a hero. He just wants to be treated how he was before the tragic injury.
"The community still accepts him as Mike," he explained. "It's important for Mike to feel like he's just a plain, old kid."