Even though he’s not out on the field any longer, Ryan Dueck is letting his passion for football shine through.
The Elmwood Giants defensive co-ordinator was a late bloomer in the sport, getting his start with the Manitoba Major Football League’s Eastman Raiders, as there was no program at Steinbach Regional Secondary School at the time. Playing linebacker, he impressed in his rookie year, earning him two years with the Canadian Junior Football League’s Winnipeg Rifles and, eventually, a spot with the University of Manitoba Bisons.
"Football’s a sport where you fall in love with it right away. It overshadowed any sport I’d played up until then," said the 28-year-old St. Vital resident.
After a year red-shirting (practising with the team but not playing in order to extend eligibility) with the Bisons, the sport changed his life during a routine play. Dueck suffered a neck injury in February 2008 while playing a scrimmage.
"It was just a pickup game. It wasn’t even a regular practice or game," Dueck said. "We just had a little too much contact going on. I squared someone up like you normally do. I miscalculated and I hit my head right into that guy’s chest plate. I felt the base of my neck pop — two audible pops in a row — and then I was on the ground trying to figure out if I could move.
"It was the scariest moment of my life."
Dueck was diagnosed with an acute compression of three vertebrae in his neck, but doctors didn’t think there was structural damage, and he would recover normally. Though Dueck was told he would never play contact sports again, he was told his day-to-day life wouldn’t be affected as soon as he recovered.
"The opposite happened. It just deteriorated. Every year, it’s gotten worse," Dueck said, noting the past year in particular has been "incredibly difficult," as he has trouble sleeping and can’t do any activity for longer than an hour.
There is hope, though, as Dueck will have surgery in Germany next month to replace his damaged C4 vertebrae with synthetic vertebrae, to prevent Dueck from deteriorating to the point where he can no longer hold up his head or use his arms. After replacing the vertebrae, surgeons will install two discs to head off a bone-on-bone situation, which is the prime source of his arthritic pain.
"It’s pretty invasive, but they’re the world leaders in this kind of stuff. They’ve been doing this for a long time," Dueck said. "The surgeons are pretty confident. It has a 90% chance of being successful, not just to stop what’s already going downhill, but to regain motion."
At press time, Dueck and his wife, Jennifer, had raised over $35,000 of the $40,000 needed to cover the cost of the surgery, which is scheduled for Nov. 21, just after Dueck’s 29th birthday.
They are holding a coffee and dessert fundraiser at St. Norbert Community Centre on Oct. 18 at 8 p.m. For more information or to donate, visit http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/ryan-s-c-spine-surgery/88086.