By Ned Bekavac
The noisiest spot in most elementary schools is the gymnasium.
But last week, elder students from King George school gathered in their gym, and for quite a time, barely made a peep.
Such was the power of the story being told by the man holding the microphone in front of them.
Zach Androschuk, sporting his University of Guelph Gryphons football jersey, was on hand sharing words both painful and touching.
Behind him were seven Gryphons teammates. They were there to talk to King George students on the topic of “making tough decisions.”
Androschuk, of Sarnia, took the microphone first and delivered a gripping story about how one freak incident completely changed the life of his friend, and himself.
A bunch of years ago, heading into the Grade 11 school year and football season, he and Dan Edwards, friend and fellow football player, decided to play wrestle a bit.
That’s when something went horribly wrong. Edwards took a bad, bad fall. So bad, that it has left him paralyzed.
Androschuk was consumed by guilt. He thought about hanging up the football cleats. But Edwards didn’t want sympathy. What happened, happened. Move on and make good of it, Edwards said to his friend.
“It’s been tough,” said Androschuk. “It’s been a journey and I guarantee myself it’s still going to be tough in the future, I’m going to have my failures, but it’s really what you do with it – like Dan says.
“I look up to Dan a lot.”
The incident and its aftermath stunned Androschuk, but also helped pave the way to where he is today. Androschuk is headed to med school at Western University. Visiting his friend in the hospital opened his eyes. He saw how much impact doctors and nurses had on people.
“Trying to make a difference in people’s lives and I thought, ‘Maybe in the future I can do something like this,’” he told the students.
Androschuk was recently named the Gryphons’ first-ever recipient of the Russ Jackson Award.
The CIS award is presented to the player best exemplifying the attributes of academic achievement, football skill and citizenship.
His list of contributions to the community is seemingly endless: Helping organize Guelph Wheels In Action, volunteering in the St. Joseph’s Hospital spinal rehab unit, and participating in the Big Brothers Bowl for Kids Sake fundraiser – for starters.
In the classroom, he has been named to the dean’s honour roll and has achieved Academic All-Canadian status each of his first four years on the Guelph campus.
On the football field, the 6-foot-1, 195-pound defensive back was a two-year captain of the special teams unit and in 2011, won the team’s Kyle Walters Trophy for being the best-prepared player on the Guelph roster.
And to think, after toiling on the football practice roster early in his university career, there were a few times he was going to quit football.
That’s when Dan came in.
“I kind of talked to Dan and he said: ‘People always tell me how bad they feel for me. And they feel sympathetic and they give me sympathy,’” says Androschuk, who played football and trained while sporting a Do It For Dan shirt.
“And he said ‘You know what? That does nothing. Sympathy does nothing. If you don’t like the situation you’re in, do something about it,’” said Androschuk.
He took the words to heart, increased his efforts and – boom – success followed.
“If you don’t like the grades you’re getting, do something about it. Take extra time to study,” he said to the students.
“If you don’t like the position you are in on your sports team, work out a little harder, take part in a couple of extra drills.”
Says Androschuk: “It seemed to kind of click. You try to incorporate that into little parts of your life. So from there, things started to pick up in football, and grades started to get a little better.”
Having already been accepted into Western, Androschuk pondered not returning for a fifth and final year for the Gryphons.
But, again, Dan was his inspiration and he came back to help the Gryphons to an historic 7-1 record and a berth in the Yates Cup, where they fell to McMaster.
“It kind of hit me – I see how fast things can change. How easily things can be taken away from you,” said Androschuk.
“It really feels like: ‘I’m fortunate, I want to take this as far as I can.’”
He then quoted basketball legend Michael Jordan.
“When he was coming out of retirement – he said, ‘I can deal with failure, I just can’t deal with the lack of trying.’
“I thought, ‘I wanna make a difference on this team and if it doesn’t go my way, I’m alright with that. But I don’t want to not come back because I was too afraid to fail.’”
The chat concluded and the students applauded before raising their hands for some questions.
Then Grade 8 student Isidora Peric presented a congratulatory cake to an appreciative Androschuk.
Prior to the talk, a video was shown and in it, Edwards, in a wheelchair, discussed how close the incident has brought him to Androschuk.
“After the accident happened, we went from being acquaintances to being brothers,” said Edwards.