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Student singing War Amps praises

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When Connor Nykyforak hears a song he likes on Power 97, he tries to play it on his electric guitar.

Each song takes a week and a half to learn, but that doesn't stop his determination.

"It's rewarding when I sit down and try to play a song and I've been practising it for a while and I finally get it," said Nykyforak, who was born without a right arm. "It starts to click and I get that sense of achievement where it's like, 'Yeah, I know how to play this now.'"

Nykyforak likes to play his favourite song, Hit the Lights, by Metallica.

His desire to play guitar started when he was in Grade 8, but he admits his passion for music has had its sour notes along the way.

"Having my instructor show me what to do and translate into what I have to do can be difficult," he said. "I would have to listen to what he was doing instead of looking at how he was physically doing it."

With the help of the War Amps, a charitable organization across Canada that serves amputees, Nykyforak was able to receive a custom-made prosthetic arm that allows him to hold a pick. Growing up, he has had up to 15 prosthetic limbs.

"I thought about drums, but the prosthetics I saw were very limiting," said the 19-year-old. "The guitar made a lot more sense and it wasn't such a far step from someone who normally plays guitar."

The War Amps provides financial assistance for artificial limbs and aims to improve the quality of life for all amputees. Prosthetic limbs cost from $10,000 to $40,000.

"We want to encourage these kids to be active and live their everyday life and participate in anything they want," said James Jordan, safety events co-ordinator for the War Amps.

The prosthetic limbs have also allowed Nykyforak to learn how to ride a bike, swim and tie his shoelaces.

Since he was an infant, he has been part of the organization's Child Amputee Program (CHAMP), which offers assistance at every stage of a child's life.

"You see these kids coming in for the first time and they're so shy. They're hiding their arm or their leg. They don't have much self-esteem," Jordan said.

Nykyforak remembers attending regional Prairie seminars held by the organization in Calgary, where he met other kids who help children living as an amputee.

"It's totally different and bizarre from real life," he said. "Everybody there is an amputee."

The seminars aim to educate parents about living as an amputee and for children to gain self-confidence.

"By the end of weekend, it's great to see how far they've come along after receiving information or seeing other people that have the same amputation," Jordan said. "They're doing everything and leading normal lives. It's a positive transition."

This year, the regional Prairie seminar is to be held at the Delta Hotel in Winnipeg from Aug. 15 to 17.

"There are lots of issues amputees face growing up, and it's nice to have someone to speak to about those," Jordan said. "Parents come up to me with tears in their eyes saying, 'My child was so down, with no self-esteem. After the seminar, he's come out of his shell.' "

Today, Nykyforak doesn't have as much time to strum chords, as he is studying at Red River College to become an accountant.

But the student's most important goal is to give back and raise awareness about the organization.

"It's really important to give back, because it's something that supported me since Day 1," he said. "Anything I wanted to do, they were always there."

 

If you know a special volunteer please contact Elizabeth Fraser at fraser.a.liz@gmail.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2014 B2

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