The captain of Canada’s national Para ice hockey team, a three-time Paralympic medallist and two-time world champion, Tyler McGregor has been playing organized hockey since he was three years old.
The sport – and the lessons he’s learned from it – have shaped his life in more ways than he ever could have imagined and is creating new paths for him to continue to grow and help others.
Hockey was everything to McGregor throughout his youth, and at 15 he was an OHL prospect with high hopes of being selected in the 2010 draft. In his 2009 season opener, he broke his leg. He underwent surgery and thought he would soon be back on the ice.
But he then developed a growth at the site of the fracture that was diagnosed as a type of bone cancer called spindle cell sarcoma. In order to save his life, doctors told McGregor they’d have to amputate his leg. The amputation took place on the same day as the 2010 OHL draft.
“At that time in my life I identified as an athlete, and that was stripped from who I was,” said McGregor. “It was obviously heartbreaking and I was pretty confused and scared about what the future would look like for me.
“I kind of lost all the confidence that I’d had before, and so reintegrating myself into things like school and sports was extremely challenging. And I probably didn’t show it at the time, but it hurt a lot to not be who I once was.”
Discovering a new path
McGregor credits his family, friends, teammates and community with helping him to rebound. Teamwork, resilience and staying positive when faced with adversity – all of which are key to being successful in sports – played a vital role in helping him overcome a very dark time and find a new direction for himself.
Getting back into hockey was important too. A former coach introduced McGregor to Para ice hockey – a sport where instead of using skates, players sit on two-blade sledges to manoeuvre across the ice.
McGregor made Canada’s national team in 2012 and over the past decade has become not only the captain of the squad, but one of the sport’s top players.
While he’s proud of his on-ice accomplishments, being a community leader off the ice is even more important to him.
McGregor has worked with a number of charities including Childcan which supports families facing childhood cancer, the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and more.
“I was treated in a children’s hospital, and being surrounded by other kids battling cancer – some as young as 1, 2 or 3 years old – leaves a lifelong impact on you,” he said. “Now that I have the means to do it, I want to try and help others as much as I can.”
We all have the ability to make a difference, and McGregor is hopeful that his actions show people the positive impact they can have on the lives of others.
“Being able to use whatever platform I have to try and empower and inspire other people to give back to their community and the things they’re passionate about is something that I value more than anything.”
Paying homage to Terry Fox
Terry Fox has been a long-time hero of McGregor’s. The famed Canadian took on even more meaning in McGregor’s life when his orthopedic oncologist broke the news to him about his cancer.
When Fox was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1977, he was given around a 20% chance of survival. When McGregor learned of his own cancer, the survival rate had grown to better than 80% thanks to medical advancements driven forward by organizations like the Terry Fox Foundation.
“That’s something that definitely stuck with me,” McGregor said. “It’s always been a hope of mine to find a way to continue to move that needle like Terry did.”
Inspired by Fox’s iconic Marathon of Hope, in 2021 McGregor created the Sledge Skate of Hope. The inaugural event saw McGregor skating 25 kilometres on his sledge and raising over $31,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation.
This year, he wanted to make the event even bigger. He set a goal of skating 42 kilometres – the distance Fox ran each day – in all 10 of Canada’s provinces in hopes of raising $100,000.
McGregor completed all 420 kilometres of skating, but due to weather issues was only able to make it to eight provinces. To date, the 2023 Sledge Skate of Hope has collected nearly $75,000 for the Terry Fox Foundation.
In addition to fundraising, McGregor wanted to use the initiative to raise awareness about his sport and continue to push himself both professionally and personally. Organizing a national event like this is a significant amount of work but there’s a lot to be gained from the experience.
“I knew it was going to be difficult, but I think with anything – in order to learn – you have to make yourself uncomfortable, do things that scare you and challenge you in new ways. So I think I’ve been able to do all that.”
At each of the 10 stops he made, McGregor had the opportunity to meet with different community organizations, supporters and new friends who had completed treatment for bone cancer and skated alongside him on their own sledges. This served as a great reminder of why he’s doing this and the legacy he wants to build.
“One of my biggest things is I never want to be remembered just as an athlete,” said McGregor. “I want to be remembered as someone who made an impact and tried to make the community around me a better place better than I found it. That’s a guiding principle of mine, and I’m certainly trying to do that as best as possible now.”
While talking with McGregor, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask him about his thoughts and experience with insurance.
“I’m fortunate that I’d never had to make an insurance claim,” he said with a laugh.
That makes us happy too.