When Lee Melymick was a player on the Leaside Leafs junior team, he played any position that was asked of him, without protest.
Even pitcher, when coaches Tom Hayward or Howard Binstock needed him.
Melymick was called upon once again to take to mound for the team, July 19, but this time it was of a more sobering nature — throwing out the opening pitch
The 21-year-old Ryerson student broke his back and severed his spinal cord in a 20-foot fall at his summer job, June 23, 2015. The injury resulted in paralysis from the waist down and 70 day stay in the hospital.
Melymick went from a 6-foot-4, 201-pound frame, to just 135 pounds. Three surgeries later, he began the healing process at the Lyndhurst Centre.
Still, on July 19, he beamed as he was given his former jersey in a frame, a signed bat and hat by Toronto Blue Jays players and $500 for his GoFundMe campaign, Stand By Lee, from former teammates Lee Mosbaugh and Noah Koffman. Money raised will help Lee pay for any further surgeries he requires that are only available outside of Canada.
“I feel pretty great,” Lee Melymick said. “When I heard my brother [Luke] talking, it brought back a lot of hard memories from the past year. It’s been a long road.”
Family played a big role in that recovery. Mom, Terry Haubrich rarely left his side, as did father Mark Melymick and his brother.
“What he had to endure and go through is beyond what anyone else with this kind of injury had to go through,” Mark said, his eyes watery. “He was in pain and fighting the whole summer.”
Lee Melymick had to wait six days to get his initial surgery, but his positive attitude and competitive drive kept him focused.
“We’re very thankful and grateful to everyone, and he’s so inspirational,” Mark Melymick said.
All the time spent at the rehab clinic did not go to waste, as Lee met with Canadian Wheelchair Basketball coach, Steve Bialowas, as well as Canadian Paralympian and activist, Rick Hansen.
“He’s something to look to as a hope for the future,” he said. “[The opening pitch[ was really nice, but the emotions that come back when you remember seeing him play.
“The positive side is it was another example of him being so inspirational to people.”
Melymick is even inspiring his former teammates, as the troupe had his initials placed on the left sleeve of their jerseys.
Binstock commended his charges on their move to honour Melymick, and keep his recovery fresh in their minds”.
“I think the whole team was devastated,” he said. “It shows there’s another day. And for these guys, who have been through successes, something like this will change their perspective of life.”