Donovan Cox was trying to be helpful when he handed his skateboarding helmet to a buddy last fall.
"He forgot his," recalls the East Kildonan child, who was nine at the time.
"I just decided to give him mine."
That decision nearly cost him his life. Donovan went flying down a concrete ramp at a skate park, fell off and landed hard.
"I cracked my head," says Donovan, now 10. "The inside of my skull was fractured all the way from the back of my skull to my nose."
He went into seizures at the park. He didn't recognize his sisters at the hospital. His parents feared he wouldn't survive the night.
"For kids, head injuries are much worse than for adults. It's like shaking a snow globe," says Donovan's dad, Jesse Cox, a paramedic.
All Donovan wanted to do was get better and get back to playing hockey. The accident happened in South Carolina, where the family lived at the time. Cox, a single dad, moved his kids to Winnipeg this summer so they'd be close to his family. He set out to see if it was possible to fix the lingering effects of the accident, repair Donovan's confidence and return him to the rink.
"That's one of the things he really wanted to when we came up here," says Cox. "He played hockey in South Carolina and really wanted to get on a team here."
Neither father or son took the fractured skull lightly.
"We were told when it happened the recurrence of another head injury (while the skull was healing and the brain bleeding) could kill him," Cox says. "We waited until the fracture healed. I talked to his neurologist. We wouldn't have considered this if he didn't have medical clearance."
Donovan signed up at Creative Conditioning, an East Kildonan gym that offers intense cross-fit training. Owner Paul Dyck says they don't get many 10-year-olds, but some parents will sign up kids to give them an edge in team sports.
"He gave it all he could," says Cox. "There were days when he tried to do something and he couldn't but he never stopped trying. He's a pretty self-motivated kid."
"I lift weights, I do pull-ups and chin-ups and different things," says Donovan.
The first goal was to help Donovan with his co-ordination and balance, and then get his fitness level back up to where it was before the accident. Dyck says working on the boy's confidence was key.
"It was a gradual improvement. It was great to see, given where he started. He's fitter, stronger, we're building a solid foundation for him."
Donovan stepped back onto the ice in September wearing a new Mark Messier helmet, designed to reduce the risk of concussion. His dad says there was no question they'll do whatever they can to protect him.
The left-winger wanted to earn a spot on the River East Royals A1 team. There were five tryouts. Donovan and his dad decided not to tell anyone about his injury in advance. They wanted him to be judged on his skill, not his past.
He made the team.
"It wasn't until after that, when everyone was sitting around and talking, that someone asked where Donovan played last season. I told them he hadn't, that he'd had this accident."
He proved his worth quickly. Donovan scored the first goal of the season. And then he scored the second one.
His dad says his success on the ice doesn't mean his son's struggles are over. He likens some of the lingering side-effects to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Donovan has good days, and he has days when he breaks down in tears without knowing why.
"Some days are easy and some days are really hard," says Cox. "We just get through it."
The Grade 5 student says he's proud of what he has accomplished.
"I couldn't do that much hockey for a whole year," he says. "Now I can."