Ex-RMU player overcomes cancer, fulfills aspiration of playing pro hockey
College Football Videos
Chris Kushneriuk moved to Las Vegas recently, but he sticks mainly to the rink, the gym and his apartment. He gets around on a mountain bike. Sin City? It might as well be Stockton, Bakersfield or any other humdrum outpost in the geographically incorrect East Coast Hockey League.
“Ever since I got sick, I've been so focused on hockey and getting better every day and getting to the next level,” he said. “Friends ask me if I'm gonna do this and this and this in Vegas. I'm here, but I'm 100 percent playing for the Wranglers, and climbing the ladder.”
Kushneriuk, 27, has survived a rare form of testicular cancer. The former Robert Morris star joined the Las Vegas Wranglers in early March, nearly a year to the day after a surgeon in Indianapolis removed his gall bladder, a kidney, some of his lymph nodes and 35 percent of his liver.
He also withstood stem cell treatments and a blast of chemotherapy boosted to seven times stronger than normal. It was, he said, “as close to hell as I can ever get to on Earth.”
He said his doctor told him he would have died within six months if not for all of that.
“It's pretty remarkable,” said Kushneriuk, a right wing. “I feel better now than when I was playing before. Doctors were baffled that I was able to play.
“The thought (of returning) was just a hope and a dream, but it kind of stayed in the back of my mind and drove me to where I am now.”
Where he is, despite the bright lights, is a minor league hockey town. Recently, the Wranglers took the ice in Spiderman uniforms. The team is scheduled to move into a new arena built atop a casino. A game against San Francisco was canceled last week because that team folded.
Yet all that matters to Kushneriuk is the ice beneath his skates and an opponent to outmaneuver or outhustle. When he scored his first goal, “right away, I had like a flashback to when I was lying in bed in Indianapolis praying I'd get back that feeling,” he said. “It was a level of excitement I hadn't been able to experience for so long. This opportunity means more to me than anyone would imagine.”
The Ottawa, Ontario, native began his college career playing for coach Bill Wilkinson at Wayne State in Michigan, which dropped hockey after his freshman season. Wilkinson, who previously coached RMU coach Derek Schooley at Western Michigan, raved about Kushneriuk.
“He said, ‘You've got to take this kid. He's a warrior. He's a lot better than anybody gives him credit for,' ” Schooley recalled. “He said, ‘He will be your captain.' ”
Kushneriuk made assistant captain during his sophomore season at RMU and captain as a senior during the 2010-11 season. Tough, energetic and physical, “he played so hard that he created opportunities and got everything accomplished through effort and work,” Schooley said.
While playing for Bakersfield during the 2011-12 season and into summer workouts, Kushneriuk felt achy and fatigued, and his side hurt. Tests in June 2012 revealed Stage 4 cancer. A testicle was removed, but the cancer had spread throughout his abdomen.
Dissatisfied with what he was hearing from his Canadian doctors, Kushneriuk said he combed the Internet for an alternative before calling Dr. Lawrence Einhorn at Indiana University in Indianapolis. Einhorn treated cyclist Lance Armstrong and is regarded as the world's foremost authority on curing testicular cancer.
The aggressive treatment cost about $340,000, Kushneriuk said. His family paid $140,000, and fundraisers at RMU and elsewhere accounted for the rest. The Colonials dedicated their 2012-13 season to Kushneriuk and renamed their Most Inspirational Player award in his honor.
Recovery was grueling, a physical and mental struggle, he said. There were doubts and fears. His weight dropped 40 pounds to 150. In October, Kushneriuk, who is halfway toward his MBA, began working out with the hockey team and in the gym with strength coach Jeremy Hoy.
“I put him through a lot,” Hoy said. “It was extremely intense. And even if it wasn't, he's one of those guys who could make it intense. (His recovery) is a testament to his faith and who he is and his passion and how driven he is. It's totally Chris.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Ejections, heated moments mark Pirates’ win over Reds
- Zimbabwe alleges Murrysville doctor illegally killed lion
- New Steeler Boykin clarifies remarks about former coach
- Pirates notebook: Burnett says ‘surgery is not an option’
- After early criticism, Haley has Steelers offense poised to be even better
- Rossi: Looking at the next great Steeler
- County council candidates chosen for District 11 ballot
- Making environmentalism divisive
- Penguins not alone in top-heavy approach to salary cap
- Ability to clog the trenches crucial to Steelers defense
- Former Lincoln Park star Rowan chooses N.C. State