Anthony Lue always has this big and hearty smile on his face. His beaming energy would brighten up the gloomiest day. Prior to his injury, he was a popular high school student attending Pickering High, a school famous for its strong athletic program. Anthony was on the track and baseball teams. He had a gift for running and was offered a scholarship in a U.S. university. Meanwhile, his passion for speed prompted him to work at an auto repair shop as an apprentice mechanic. Working with high-performance sports cars like Lamborghini made his job feel more like a hobby. His life was exciting, free and full of potential.
On September 30, 2009, Anthony went to work on what he thought would be an ordinary day. During lunch hour, he was asked to bring a few wrecked cars to the scrap yard. His job was to steer the motorless cars as they were being pushed around by a construction vehicle. As his car was being nudged off the weighing scale, the crane operator attempted to pick it up by dropping a giant magnet on top of it. The operator had no idea that Anthony was still in the car. As soon as the magnet came down, the roof of the car caved in. On impact of the initial blow, Anthony blacked out. The operator proceeded to pick the car up, and when it was about 15 feet in the air, a co-worker screamed from the sideline, “someone is in the car!” The crane operator panicked and hit the “drop” button. Anthony’s car fell helplessly back onto the ground. Anthony woke up from the impact. He heard people yelling and saw them frantically running towards him. His buddy Kyle was first to arrive and he tried to pull the door open. The door was stuck. The owner of the shop shoved Kyle aside. Being a much beefier man, he yanked the door off. Kyle asked Anthony, “Dude, can you feel everything?!” He could feel pain in his torso and arms, but everything below the waist was numb. He slapped his right leg and it fell sloppily to the left. Anthony thought that he had broken his legs without knowing anything about SCI. He started to feel weak and light-headed. He told himself to remain calm and stay awake, and everything would be alright.
When firefighters arrived at the scene, they cut the roof off of the car and slowly got Anthony out of the wreckage. The paramedics stabilized his back, put a neck brace on him and strapped him onto the back board. After their initial assessment, they called Orange Air. Hearing that the chopper just got called, Anthony knew he was in trouble. Somewhere above Scarborough, Anthony suddenly realized that it was the very first time he had ever flown in a helicopter. He forgot about his circumstances for a moment and curiously attempted to peek out the window. The paramedic yelled, “DON’T MOVE!” Little did he know, he had a tiny fracture on his C7 vertebrate.
After Anthony arrived at Sunnybrook Hospital, he was diagnosed with a T9 complete spinal cord injury. When his family arrived, his doctor put the prognosis in plain language, “Your son will never walk again.” Anthony was right there, and when he heard that verdict, he went into shock and started to profusely throw up. Because he could not move, he was choking on his own vomit. The nurse had to insert a tube down his throat to prevent him from suffocating. He blacked out again.
The news of his injury spread quickly to everyone he knew. Within days, his room was filled with his friends and family visitors from far and wide. A girl named Danielle was introduced by a mutual friend. She had gone through a similar situation in her life, and wanted to visit Anthony to offer much needed encouragement. At the time, Anthony was coping with the side effects of his medications. He constantly felt hot and sweaty to a point where he couldn’t fall asleep at night. A few days after Danielle’s initial visit, she came back again with a small fan that fit perfectly on his bedside table. He was sure that she was an angel.
Three weeks later, Anthony was in a much better emotional state. One day, a co-ordinator from Sunnybrook’s injury prevention program named Sandi visited Anthony and asked him if he would be willing to share his story with a small group of high school students, in the hope of raising awareness about job safety. Anthony accepted the request right away. According to Sandi’s account, she had never met a newly injured patient that had so much positive energy and his signature smiles made him one of the most memorable people in Sandi’s nine-year career as a program co-ordinator. On the day of the visit, when 15 youngsters crowded his hospital room, Anthony was surprised that he could talk about the incident and reflect on it as if it had happened a long, long time ago. The only challenge during the presentation was his insecurity about that half-filled urinary bag hanging indiscreetly at the bedrail and the fact that he was in his birthday suit underneath a thin cover
One month later, Anthony got transferred to Lyndhurst Rehab Hospital. Upon receiving more education about SCI, the tiny little false hope that he might be back to his old walking self was totally diminished. Anthony’s smile was temporarily replaced by a frown. He had never felt this sad and disappointed before. Thanks to the strong support from his family and friends, within a short period of time, he recovered. He put it this way, “I am grateful that I am still alive. My injury could have been worse. I know it sucks, but I will make the most of it.” On the day when his rehab team brought in his custom-made wheelchair, he felt like he was being gifted with a new bike. It gave him back his freedom and his need for speed was once again satisfied.
Meeting Jeff Adam, a former Paralympian, inspired Anthony to play Parasport. He participated in wheelchair basketball for a couple of seasons. It opened the door for him to discover other recreational activities. Meeting Rich VanderWal was even more game changing. When he loaned Anthony a handcycle and introduced him to the sport, a brand-new track was paved for him. In 2015, after riding with his buddies in the handcycle club, participating in several local and regional races and winning a few “little ones,” Anthony decided to follow the lead of his colleagues by pursuing a career as a Paralympian. His handcycle was not just a bike, it was a ride to a new life filled with fun, excitement and opportunities. He is now a member of Team Ontario and training full-time for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Apart from training, Anthony kept himself busy by being a motivational speaker. He continued to speak to young people about job place safety, inspire them to be resilient and teach them to value and respect their family. He also worked in TV at Accessible Media Inc., promoting accessibility and inclusiveness for all Canadians. His signature smiles also landed him a modelling contract with IZ Adaptive. In his personal life, his injury has brought his family even closer, not just to himself, but to one another. He met so many amazing people since (or because of) his injury, and they share a lot in common. As for the fan that Danielle got him, it stopped working after a few years, but she got him a second one.
When asked what messages he would like to pass on to his peers, especially people who are newly injured, Anthony said, “I just want to let them know that no matter where they are or what point they are at in their life, they can change and turn things around so they are right-side up. Negative things can sometimes have positive consequences, if they just endure long enough to find out what they are. Keep smiling.”
Visit Anthony’s website at: www.anthonylue.com.