Injured Junior B Hockey Player Starts Next Chapter of Life at Carleton

Brett Nugent is starting his commerce degree at Carleton's Sprott School of Business this fall. (Jacintha George McKinnon/Facebook)

A few years ago, Brett Nugent would have said things came fairly easily to him. The Luskville, Que., teen did well in school, was a talented Junior B hockey player with the Shawville Pontiacs and enjoyed helping his dad with the family construction business.

But when a clean hit during an October 2013 hockey game sent Nugent head-first into the boards and left him paralyzed – with only minor mobility left in his biceps and wrists – everything changed. While things don’t always come easily anymore as he adjusts to life as a quadriplegic, the now-21-year-old is ready to start the next chapter of his life as a student at Carleton’s Sprott School of Business.

“Coming back this year will be the first step back into schooling and everything – back into the real world,” Nugent says.

He hopes a commerce degree will allow him to remain involved in the family construction business and work for his dad’s new hops farm by helping to manage the finances. Carleton’s position as one of the most accessible universities in Canada also played a role in Nugent’s decision to come to Ottawa.

“Not just in terms of the program, but in terms of accessibility, Carleton U was definitely the easiest choice by far,” says Nugent, adding that he’ll have attendant care in residence and is looking forward to using Carleton’s underground tunnels.

Thanks to the fundraising efforts of his friends, family and community, he’ll also be purchasing his own accessible truck to help him get around during the school year.

While he’s adapted quickly to his injury and is looking forward to starting his degree, there have been tough moments along the way.

“You don’t think it’s going to be that serious at first,” Nugent says of the moments following the accident. “Then obviously they tell you your neck’s been broken…and you start thinking: When am I going to be able to jump back in school or how long am I going to be in here for?”

Everything from eating to drinking to simply getting around has taken relearning. His hockey routine has changed and after months in rehab Nugent decided to take a break from school, where he’d been about to finish studying electronics technology at his CEGEP.

“Hockey was pretty much my life at the time,” he says. “That was kind of the hardest part – knowing you’re not going to be able to go back out on the ice and be at the level you were.”

Despite the adjustments, Nugent is focused on reclaiming as much of his normal routine as possible.
He’s already been back at the rink coaching hockey, testing his skills at wheelchair rugby and has even been offered a chance to help with the Ravens varsity hockey team at Carleton.

“I’m so used to being independent growing up,” Nugent says. “Coming back as a 21-year-old and now you’re still needing people to help you out with stuff, it’s kind of… a damper on you.”

While Nugent says school might take a little more work now, he’s up for the challenge.

“I always want to push myself to be as independent as possible, where I’m not looking at people to have to help me out,” he says.

“That’s probably one of my biggest motivators. And having friends and family around… they want to push me as much too.”

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