Joanne Lukasik had just turned 16 and, on Halloween Night 1972, she should have been out celebrating her birthday with friends. Instead, the dutiful teen she was, she was doing her daily chores on her family’s dairy farm in southern Ontario.
She was unloading corn feed from a wagon into a hopper, which blows the feed up into a silo. She slipped, got caught in the auger and was pulled into the fan, severing both legs just below the knee. She nearly bled to death; she says it was 20 minutes before anyone found her.
“When it first happened, everyone around me wasn’t sure whether I was aware what had happened to me. I was in shock,” Lukasik says. “They rushed me to the hospital, and when I came to, I saw my mom and she came over to me. I said to her, ‘Mom, can you call Coach Gary? I don’t think I can make tomorrow night’s game.’ ”
Lukasik assumed her hockey career was over. About a month later, still in the hospital, she asked her surgeon, “Will I ever skate again?”
“Joanne, there’s nothing you can’t do,” he told her. “Nobody can stop you. If you want to do it badly enough, there’s no reason why you can’t.”
That’s all she needed to hear. Less than a year later, she was back on the ice, albeit skating awkwardly on wooden peg legs and bracing herself along the boards. The following season, she was playing competitively as a goalie. That’s how determined she was to get back into the game she loves so much.
Now 54, Lukasik has lived in Michigan since 1997, working as an accountant for Detroit Country Day School in Bloomfield Hills and serving as an assistant coach for the school’s girls’ hockey team. She continues to play goalie for the Detroit-area Polar Bears, part of the 38-team Michigan Senior Women’s Hockey League.
She and several teammates competed at the USA Hockey 50 & Over Senior Women’s National Championship, held in late April in Ellenton, Fla. And nearly 10 years ago, she was one of the first women asked to be a member of the U.S. National Amputee Hockey Team.
Thanks to technological advances in prosthetics, Lukasik can move around fairly well – particularly in the goal. So much so, often opponents, referees and fans are unaware of her disability.
About six years ago, she was playing in a tournament in Las Vegas. A shot-happy team from Texas was keeping her busy. She was drenched with sweat, and “when that happens, it builds up a lot of moisture in the sockets.”
“In the second period, the puck is in the corner,” Lukasik says. “I knew they had a classic play, back and forth behind the net and then feed it to the top of the slot and then bang. I just knew this was coming. I hugged the post and as soon as I saw the puck take off, I pushed off the post and threw my body in the air. I figure, ‘Either I’ll get it or I’ll miss it.’
“I stopped it, but as soon as I’m going down, I’m going ‘Uh-oh.’ I’m spread out on the ice, I look up and my leg’s up in the air and the whole thing is twisted the wrong way. The referee rushes over, says ‘Lie still, lie still, the EMS is coming.’ I told him, ‘I don’t need EMS.’ He says, ‘You’re just in shock.’ My teammates are just laughing.
“I told one of my teammates to go to the bench and get some tape so I could secure the leg, and as she goes, the Texas players ask her, ‘Is your goalie alright?’ She says, ‘Oh, one of her legs fell off.’ You should’ve seen the looks on their faces.
“I flip myself over, I’m redoing the pads, twist the leg back into place and tape it back up. And I look up at the referee, ‘Don’t worry, it comes off every now and then.’ He had no idea.”
That humor and resiliency make Lukasik an inspiration to everyone, says teammate Michele Monson.
“She makes our complaining seem small,” Monson says. “She works so hard. She’s fun to watch; she’s our goalie. I’m closer to 70 than she is to 60, and I think, ‘If she can do it, I can, too.’ We all can.”
To any young people out there who may have a disability and want to play hockey or any other sport, Luksaik says to them:
“Don’t put any limitations on yourself, and don’t let anyone put limitations on you, because I’ve been told many times over the years, ‘You can’t do this; you can’t do that.’
“The bottom line is, ‘If there’s something you really want to do, go do it.’ When they told me I couldn’t do it, I said, ‘I can’t? Watch me,’ and I went out there and skated. It might take me a little longer, but nothing was going to stop me. And nothing should stop them.”