NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Seven months ago, North Providence native AJ Quetta suffered a spinal cord injury while playing in a high school hockey game.
He is now paralyzed from the chest down but the injury is not keeping his spirits down.
“I’m doing well, just grinding every day trying to be better than the day before,” AJ said. “You know I’m making progress every single day, getting stronger, and getting a little bit closer to the finish line at the end of the marathon.”
The soon-to-be 19-year-old is attacking this challenge with the same intensity, drive, and focus that he went after the puck on the ice.
Playing through youth hockey and then as a star at Bishop Feehan High School, everything changed on Jan. 26 during a game in Springfield, Massachusetts.
“You know it was a freak accident, there is nobody to blame, and I was conscious through the whole thing,” AJ said. “I’ll remember it for the rest of my life for sure.”
AJ says he remembers exactly what happened.
“The puck was behind the goal line, the opposing player had it and shot it toward the next, I went to finish the play because we were getting our butts kicked and I went to make the hit and the player moved out of the way and I went weight forward and into the boards,” AJ recalled.
He knew something was wrong the second the hit happened.
“When I thought my arm was above my head and it was by my side, that’s when I knew,” he explained.
AJ’s father Anthony said when his son got hurt, he wasn’t even at the game since it was far, in the middle of the week, and snowing so he couldn’t get out there.
“That’s one of the things I do regret not being there for that, for him on the ice,” Anthony said.
It’s been about seven months since his injury and AJ says he feels himself making progress.
“I have more strength in my shoulders, I have way more neck control, there was a point I was glued to the back of this headrest and now I can move my head however I want, look left and right, so I’ve definitely made progress since this started that’s for sure,” he said.
AJ spends about three hours every day at Journey Forward in Canton, Massachusetts. It’s a non-profit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of those with spinal cord injuries or disabilities.
“I never thought I could do this,” Anthony said. “I mean who would ever think about this.”
Anthony spent 80 days in an Atlanta rehab hospital with AJ after the accident.
“We have talked about it because we have seen it in the past in the hockey community, and he has said to me, ‘dad, I don’t know what I would do if this ever happened to me,’ but now we know, we never wanted to know, but now we know,” Anthony explained. “He’s a top-notch kid.”
Anthony said he has never let him down in his life.
“Everything he does is at a high level and I know that he is going to get out of the chair, I just do,” he said. “Just because of his attitude and the times we live in with the technology and the care so this is the hard part and we are getting through it.”
Everyone has goals in life, but AJ has one in particular.
“My goal is to walk again, of course, and to get back to my daily life as it used to be,” he explained. “It might never be the same and it might not be as easy but instead of saying, let’s roll down here and let’s roll down there, let’s go run over there and let’s go walk over there.”
After AJ’s injury, a worldwide movement called AJ’s Army was formed to help provide long-term financial and emotional support to the Quetta family, as he focuses on his recovery.
“It definitely lifts my spirits seeing how many people care about me,” AJ said. “Definitely, obviously wish I never had it and at the same time I’m so glad I do though.”
Anthony says all of the support is unreal and is not easy.
“It’s not easy to be on the take, it’s never been that way with me, I’ve never been a guy who had my hand out” he explained. “To see all of the support, the financial support, emotional support, all of that stuff, we have a huge amount of thanks to give to so many people.”
In May, AJ even served as the Honorary Fan Banner Captain at a Boston Bruins game. The players also decided to give the game puck to AJ instead of one of the players on the team.
AJ also has a message for everyone.
“As much as you’re here for me, I’m here for you and as much as you guys keep supporting me, I’m going to have that drive and motivation to work, and eventually you guys are going to see how much you helped me,” he said.
To help AJ in his recovery, you can visit AJsArmy.com.