It’s only been a few weeks since the Humboldt Broncos tragedy, but Ryan Straschnitzki is already setting new goals for himself.

The 19-year-old defenceman from Airdrie, Alta. was paralyzed from the chest down when the bus he and his team were riding in collided with a semi tractor-trailer in Saskatchewan earlier this month. The horrific crash killed 16 people, including 10 junior hockey players, and injured 13 others.

With his parents by his side, Ryan answered reporters’ questions about his recovery at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre on Wednesday. He told the crowd that his daily rehabilitation sessions have been going well and that he’s feeling better every day.

In fact, the optimistic young athlete has even started setting daily challenges for himself as he recovers from the accident.

“Each day just do something more and more. You know, sit in the chair longer. Try and sit up longer. Just little things like that,” Ryan explained.

Those are some of his goals for the short term. In the long term, Ryan said he plans to walk again one day.

“Some people have said I won’t be able to, but, you know, I kind of want to prove them wrong,” he said with a smile.

In addition to walking again, the young hockey player said he hopes to find his way back to the rink.

“Growing up I just loved being on the ice. It’s what I did constantly no matter what even during the summertime,” he said. “It’s just the best thing so I’m trying to pursue maybe a career in sledge hockey after all this or if that doesn’t work out, maybe coaching or scouting. Just any way I can be a part of the game.”

When asked how he’s staying positive in the aftermath of the tragedy, Ryan said he’s had his moments but that he’s staying focused on the future.

“I’m trying to push through and get better for those guys that didn’t make it,” he said. “Pain is temporary. That’s what I keep in the back of my mind and I just say, ‘You can get through this. You can do it.’”

‘I couldn’t move my body’

Ryan described what he experienced the night of the crash. He said he had been sitting in the middle of the bus on the left side of the aisle texting his girlfriend in the moments leading up to the accident.

“All of a sudden I heard a scream from the front of the bus and the semi-truck pulled in front of us and that’s all I remember,” he said. “I kind of blacked out and I woke up however long later and my back was against the semi and I saw my teammates in front of me.”

“My first instinct was to get up and try and help but I couldn’t move my body.”

Ryan said he was lucky he survived because there were other people sitting in his section of the bus that didn’t.

“I don’t think it’s hit me yet. It was terrible,” he said.

Healing with his teammates

In the aftermath of the crash, Ryan said he and his surviving teammates have grown closer than ever. Although they may be separated by distance now, he said they have a group text message where they communicate with each other daily.

“We were all a family. We were so close,” he said. “I think we’ll be closer than ever in the next years to come.”

Ryan also took the opportunity to thank the public for the immense outpouring of support they gave him and the Broncos family in the weeks since the tragedy. He said the vigil held for him and the team in his hometown of Airdrie was particularly touching for him.

“The support we’re getting is unreal and I’m sure every Bronco member appreciates it,” he said. “No words can describe the feeling.”

His parents said they’re proud of how Ryan has been handling his recovery and said they hope they’ll be able to take him home from the hospital soon.

“We just take it, like I tell Ryan, shift by shift. We’re still in the first period, fourth shift in so we still got a full game to go. That’s how we take it,” Tom Straschnitzki said.

The StrazStrong Foundation will hold a benefit dinner with live music, dinner and a silent auction on June 16 in Airdrie to raise money for Ryan’s future.