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Published: Sunday, 9/16/2012 - Updated: 3 years ago

'Just a normal kid in a wheelchair' tackles campus life

Hockey player paralyzed at Clay studying computer science at BGSU

Kyle Cannon,18, listens in class while his health aid, Dan Dorner, center in baseball cap, takes notes for him at Bowling Green State University. Canon was a Clay freshman when he was paralyzed during a hockey game in 2008. Kyle Cannon,18, listens in class while his health aid, Dan Dorner, center in baseball cap, takes notes for him at Bowling Green State University. Canon was a Clay freshman when he was paralyzed during a hockey game in 2008.
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Tired from staying up late playing computer games, Kyle Cannon arrived five minutes late to his first class of the day at Bowling Green State University.

His black ski cap with the word “hockey” on it — his signature look — hid his disheveled hair.

He was there to learn about the Canadian government, with his nurse's aide, Dan Dorner, 22, who got a free lesson as he sat next to the 18-year-old.

This is all part of the freshman college experience for Mr. Cannon, who received lots of media attention four years ago when he was paralyzed during a hockey game as a freshman playing for Clay High School.

Even though he missed most of his freshman year of high school because of hospital stays and rehabilitation, he graduated from Clay with the rest of his class in June.

He enrolled at BGSU to study computer science, a major that wasn’t a surprise to his family members who understand his love of computer games.

“It’s just wonderful to know he’s made it,” said his grandmother Kaye Cousino, 60, a retired telecommunications technician who is married to Robert Cousino, 56, a retired construction worker.

Mr. Cannon does the same things other college students do, just in a different way.

When the professor asked the students to answer a question on a piece of paper, Mr. Cannon emailed his response. He reads e-books for class.

Ever a loyal Facebook user, he controls the computer by breathing in and out on a little device that looks like a straw in his mouth.

During a break between classes, Mr. Cannon and Mr. Dorner stop at a fast-food restaurant.

Not worrying about calories is the best part about being an 18-year-old, Mr. Cannon offered.

Mr. Dorner feeds Mr. Cannon pieces of chicken fingers dipped in ranch dressing in the back of a handicapped-accessible van.

Mr. Dorner is one of four aides who rotate 12-hour shifts, helping Mr. Cannon eat, shower, and do other daily tasks.

“We have a hate-hate relationship,” Mr. Cannon said, a few minutes after he forbids Mr. Dorner from growing a 1970s-style mustache.

“That means we’re buddies,” Mr. Dorner, a Rossford firefighter, shoots back.

Later in the evening they will head back to Oregon, where Mr. Cannon has lived with his grandparents since November.

Mr. Cannon’s bedroom is decorated with University of Michigan wallpaper and posters. His old hockey stick is still mounted above his closet door.

As a 14-year-old Clay freshman, Mr. Cannon was playing in a varsity tournament game outside Dayton on Nov. 30, 2008, when a bigger player from a Kentucky school checked him from behind, knocking Mr. Cannon into the boards.

The impact broke his C4 and C5 vertebrae, paralyzing him from the chest down.

“It was a horrible hit that never should take place in any hockey game. It was horrible. We knew it was a bad hit and we knew Kyle was in a defenseless position,” said John Utter, 45, the team manager for Clay hockey team who was at the game that day. “When he hit the ice, he never moved. Those minutes truly seemed like days, and as a time went on, we realized this was serious.”

The family used money from insurance and private fund-raisers, including an annual hockey tournament played at the Huntington Center, to pay his medical care. A fund called the KC3 Trust is set up at First Federal Bank. This year's tournament is scheduled for Dec. 27 and 28.

Later this year, his family hopes to buy a new stand-up wheelchair so Mr. Cannon’s body will be held upright.

After classes and physical therapy twice a week, Mr. Cannon spends his time playing computer games and taking trips to Taco Bell.

He talks about moving out of the state; the facial hair he is growing has a reddish color resembling a leprechaun’s beard, Mr. Dorner teases.

“I guess I’m just a normal teenager in a wheelchair,” Mr. Cannon said.

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