Paralyzed in a hockey game, he vowed to walk across stage at graduation

·2 min read

Boston — Mike and Tracy Thibeault always believed that time heals all wounds. But that belief faded last fall when their then-18-year-old son Jake was paralyzed in a hockey game during his senior year of high school when another player crashed into him at the boards.

Jake's goal in life had always been to play college hockey. He was playing for a travel team when he was injured in the accident. His parents couldn't imagine how long it would take him to find a new purpose.

"I don't know how time is going to take care of this because he couldn't cut a piece of steak. He couldn't sit up. He couldn't put shoes on," Mike told CBS News.

Jake had just found out he would likely never walk again when his high school principal came to visit him in the hospital. Whether Jake got caught up in the moment or was simply in denial, he made a bold prediction that day.

"I don't remember much, but I vividly remember saying to him, 'I will walk at graduation,'" Jake told CBS News.

"In a moment like that, you want to be encouraging, but you don't want to assure something that you're not sure can happen," Todd Bland, Milton Academy's head of school, told CBS News.

Bland simply responded, "That's wonderful, Jake."

So from that day on, Jake immersed himself in therapy, doing way more than was asked of him, hoping that one day he could walk across the graduation stage.

"If I set [my mind to do] something, I'm going to do what it takes to get to it," Jake said. "I was so in the zone that I just kind of got a sense that you can do it."

Jake put in nine months of work for 30 steps across that stage, with the help of a walker and leg braces, receiving a standing ovation.

"One of the most special moments that I've ever experienced," his dad said.

Jake Thibeault walks at his high school graduation ceremony.  / Credit: Charlie Rubin
Jake Thibeault walks at his high school graduation ceremony. / Credit: Charlie Rubin

Jake, now 19, is planning to attend Babson College in Massachusetts this fall.

He says his next goal is to walk without support — and soon. Because although time may heal all wounds, Jake isn't waiting.

"It motivates me to just go harder than ever to beat this," he said.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com

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