Model of Optimism
By Ursula Thomas Miller
Michael Blabac has an incredibly optimistic outlook. He also has a pretty decent wrist shot. And together, they’ve helped him get through a life that would crush most people. They’ve also helped Blabac mine some Olympic gold.
Growing up in Buffalo, Blabac spent his life as a diehard hockey fan, following the city’s NHL team, the Sabres, and taking to the ice for his own games. However, what Blabac has in enthusiasm he’s always lacked in health. Stricken early with juvenile diabetes, he’s been plagued with health problems, including temporarily losing his sight just as he was getting ready to start at Xavier.
“I woke up one morning and couldn’t see,” he says. “The doctors assumed it was related to the diabetes and that it would go away in four or five weeks. The first weeks at Xavier were difficult. I don’t know how I did it.”
After graduating in 1998 with a degree in political science, he got a job as a lobbyist for a health organization in Washington, D.C. However, he was forced to go on long-term medical disability after a year when doctors discovered he also had multiple sclerosis. “It was a dark period,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of doors slammed in my face. My life is a model of it. But when doors close, windows open.”
The window, it turns out, overlooked a hockey rink. One of Blabac’s contacts told him about sled hockey, a Paralympic sport for amputees and others with significant mobility issues.
It didn’t take long before Blabac’s talent and determination were discovered. In 2006, he was tapped to join the U.S. Paralympics Sled Hockey National Team, which won a gold medal at the Paralympic Games in Vancouver last year.
But fate always tests Blabac. Now 37 years old, the damage to his central nervous system from MS is permanent and progressive and has made it impossible for him to continue playing at that level. So he became an assistant coach for the U.S. National Junior Sled Hockey Team and speaks at schools and businesses, offering guidance and inspiration to others with handicaps.
“Doors close; windows open,” he says. “Never give up. You have to open your eyes and be ready for the next thing, even if it’s not what you expected.”