Bruins alums, hockey community rally behind injured Nate Bibaud of Amesbury
BYFIELD - There were no bright flashes of red above the net when Jamison Bibaud scored a breakaway goal against the Boston Bruins Alumni team Saturday night at Whiston-Bragdon Arena.
But Bibaud’s older brother, Nate, provided plenty of light.
Nate could not stand up to cheer for Jamison, who had not played hockey since the fifth grade, but started skating again because Nate had asked him to. There were no claps and no high fives coming from Nate’s seat behind the glass. But sitting in his wheelchair, he smiled broadly.
“I saw the goalie lean right,’’ said 23-year-old Jamison, who was wearing Nate’s old equipment. “So I just did what I could.’’
So have many others in the community, supporting Nate Bibaud since a car accident last December left the Amesbury native initially paralyzed from his neck down, causing his mother, Deidre McCarty, to go without sleep and food for days.
The breakaway goal was ultimately meaningless in “Skate for Nate’’ event at Governor’s Academy, in which the Bruins alumni took a 14-9 victory over a group of Nate’s friends, family members, local heroes - including 1980 gold medalist Mike Eruzione - and five members of high school teams in the area.
The event was just another stop on the crowded road map toward McCarty’s ultimate goal for her son: to prove that the initial diagnosis was wrong and that he will find the strength to walk again. And while the Nathanial Bibaud Recovery Fund has already raised more than $200,000 for his treatment, there’s still a lot of work to be done.
“Without all the help, I’d have nothing,’’ Bibaud said.
It’s been almost a year since the hospital medical staff in the Virgin Islands, where the car accident took place, told Nate and his family that he would be paralyzed, neck-down, forever. But the generosity of hundreds of strangers has provided the financial support for Bibaud to be put through intensive treatment.
“It took a little while to sink in,’’ said the 27-year-old Bibaud, surprisingly upbeat, on Saturday. “At first it was like a bad dream or something. And then I said, ‘Oh my God, this is real.’ Not a day goes by where I don’t hate it, that I don’t think about what my life used to be like all the time.
“Everything I ever liked to do, I can’t anymore. I used to play hockey all the time. Most of it is mental, handling day to day, not losing your mind.’’
The former hockey player cannot walk, or move his fingers or wrists, but his biceps and shoulders have enough strength to let him do some of life’s basic activities, so easily taken for granted.
He can use a computer, with a rolling ball mouse and software that transfers speech to typed language. And he can write, by inserting a pen into a strap around his wrist, but it’s not easily legible.
“I think it’s a tough situation but one that, if it happens to you, you have to have a good amount of courage and a good attitude,’’ said Bruins legend Ray Bourque. “That’s the biggest thing.’’
Saturday’s event raised around $9,000, including more than $1,000 from the Newburyport, Amesbury, Triton, and Pentucket high school varsity hockey teams.
“The hockey community is pretty close,’’ said Robbie Padellaro, a junior defenseman at Newburyport who had the puck stolen from him by Bourque during his first shift. “It’s amazing what we can do.’’
Even at 50, Bourque collected the first star of the game with three goals and five assists, saying afterward that he “always comes ready.’’ But after the game, it wasn’t Bourque or the other Bruins greats drawing all the attention.
A young girl not more than 3 feet tall ran up to Bibaud, the evening’s most popular man, and hopped on his lap seeking an autograph on a shirt. It took a few minutes, but he spelled out his name in big, uneven letters: N-A-T-E.
Why, with some of the most decorated Bruins legends on hand, did the youngster want to get Bibaud’s autograph that night?
“Because he’s awesome!’’ she said, tucking the shirt under her arm and running off with a smile.
No longer was Nate Bibaud stuck in a hospital bed, his face burning from pain medication but his arms and hands unable to relieve the agonizing itch.
Bibaud hopes to raise enough money to help not only himself but others who have suffered the same fate. But for now, he is doing his best to give a different gift to anyone he meets.
“He’s got a great attitude,’’ said former Bruins star winger Rick Middleton, who coached the US ice sledge hockey team to a gold medal in the 2002 Paralympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
“He’s going to fight as hard as he can. I told him if he can get his arms back, we can get him in sled hockey’’ at the University of New Hampshire. “There’s always hope.’’