As a teenager, Matthew Saffran's entire life was about sports. He played everything from basketball to volleyball on the W.H. Croxford High School team where he led his senior team to provincials. He loved golfing and snowboarding and even enjoyed the more adrenaline-inducing sports like cliff jumping.
But two years ago when he hopped on his electric longboard for a leisurely ride, he never imagined it would end in him nearly losing his ability to walk. He also never imagined that the accident would lead him into the role of coaching and mentorship. One fateful day in May, Matthew ended up miscalculating a turn and hitting a parked car.
"When I hit the car, I was in pain and screaming. I think I was kind of in shock, but I didn't think that I was going to have long-term effects from this. I kind of thought that it was going to suck for now," he said.
Saffran's father who had been following him on his bike rushed to his son. Matthew's Mother, Rebecca Saffran, would call 9-11. Once Matthew was in the hospital he learnt that he had completely dislocated his knee and tore ligaments and tendons. He had also fractured the bottom half of his femur and ended up having bone fragments and cartilage lodged in his knee.
"A week later, they called us back to the hospital to meet with a surgeon. At the time, it was the height of COVID, so they weren't really letting anybody extra into the hospital, except for the people that were being treated," Matthew said. "I was in there and the doctor asked where my mom was. I told him she was waiting in the car. He said, 'we should probably bring her in.' At that point, I knew that it was serious."
Doctors told Matthew's family that he had essentially destroyed his knee and the chances of him being able to ever walk properly again were murky at best, though the doctor underlined nothing was certain until his first surgery. Matthew's Mom said that she assumed the doctors could fix just about anything, especially since Matthew had suffered his fair share of broken bones and scrapes playing sports.
"The surgeon said something like that it will take a miracle and I said, well, that's what we were looking for: a miracle," she said.
Matthew underwent his first surgery and months of excruciating physiotherapy followed.
"I was on crutches for just under four months and that was like excruciating physio[therapy]. Hours and hours a day of icing and exercises in physio that I had to do to rehabilitate my knee," he said.
While Matthew did improve his mobility, he said at one point in his physiotherapy he plateaued. Hence he would undergo another surgery.
"His second surgery, they said that the amount of repair that they did on his knee has never been done before," Rebbecca said.
The second surgery he underwent was over a year ago. Matthew's mother said that her son's surgeon teamed up with a surgeon who works with the Calgary Stampeders.
"Before [the second surgery] I could go to the mall, maybe one or two stores and I'd be out of commission for the rest of the day. I wasn't able to do any sports. But now because of the second surgery, I'm improving more and I'm able to golf," Matthew said. "My quality of life is just better."
Although Matthew's mobility has improved and he has gradually been able to participate in a few sports, he has accepted things may never go back to the way they once were. His mother says it's been a bittersweet battle, but one that has shown Matthew's true strength.
Even though Matthew is not able to play on the court, he has begun coaching. At 21 years old, he coached the Airdrie U-15 boys basketball team last fall and has started his own personal training business. He will also be running basketball camps during the summer at the Volleydome.
"I love sports and it's been a part of my life. I wanted the next best thing, which was coaching. I know how important a coach is to an athlete because I've had good coaches and I've had bad coaches and I can see how a coach can change a player's life," he said. "My brothers are still playing sports now, so I thought I'd want to coach my brothers and help them and help the players on their team."
His mother said that when her son is mentoring others, he truly comes alive.
"It is just incredible to see this part of him that I didn't know was there until recently. Hearing my 13-year-old say, 'Matt you're the best coach I've ever had,' and other players on the team saying the same thing; hearing from their parents how much they love him and he's only 21!"
Matthew said that while there are times he misses the days of him being on the court and playing, he does believe all things, even the most painful and traumatic ones happen for a reason.
"If I could go back and have prevented it, I don't think that I would. I've just learned so much about myself and I think that people learn the most and progress and develop as a person the most in life when they're going through challenges."
Matthew said that he wanted to give heartfelt thanks to the doctors and surgeons, including Dr. Ryan Martin, the Orthopaedic surgeon for the Calgary Stampeders, Pat Clayton his physiotherapist, as well as Dr. David Longino, who was also his Orthopaedic surgeon.
Although it has been a long one, he is confident coaching and mentoring other players is what he was always meant to do.
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