- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2003

MANGOHICK, Va. Justin Spurlock played only one game as a member of the Ashland Spiders Roller Hockey team.
   Yet he proudly displays his team’s championship trophy for this season in his room.
   “This is for you; we won this for you, buddy,” team captain Allen Boyle said on March 15 as he presented the trophy to Mr. Spurlock, 19, who was sitting in a wheelchair.
  “You are a warrior. We don’t want you to ever forget you are always a Spider, so that’s why the trophy stays here.”
  Mr. Spurlock was sidelined one week into the season by a near-fatal accident while driving home late one night. So the Ashland Spiders, comprising men in their 20s and 30s who hold regular day jobs, decided to dedicate the season to him.
  They used Mr. Spurlock’s battle for recovery as the inspiration to win the championship in the Ashland Adult Roller Hockey League. The Spiders beat perennial defending champs, the Rattlers.
  “The only reason the Rattlers ever won those games is because they cheat all the time,” Mr. Spurlock jokes as he rests the trophy on his lap.
  Instead of spending his days at Ashland Skateland, where he worked and played this season, he went to physical therapy sessions and watched movies.
  His teammates say they never lost sight of the goal to win the season for him.
  “This was our own NHL, and this was our Stanley Cup,” says Mr. Boyle, who when not busy playing hockey is a real estate administrator.
  “I don’t think there was ever a night where we gave more or less, we just played hard and were unified for you and stayed focused,” says teammate Jeff Kraus, 28. “We didn’t even bicker.”
  Besides the trophy, teammates also gave Mr. Spurlock a regulation Team USA jersey and a Spiders’ jersey embroidered with his name and No. 9.
  Playing roller hockey has been a lifelong pursuit for Mr. Spurlock. He went to work at the Ashland rink almost as soon as the owners could hire him. He dubbed himself “the Allen Iverson of hockey,” referring to the National Basketball Association all-star who played college hoops at Georgetown University.
  His teammates agreed.
  “There were a couple of times you and I had to get scrappy with a few other teams just to show them who was boss,” says P.J. Atkinson, 23, who had played previously with Mr. Spurlock and has had other minor injuries.
  “Every season, it seems something happened to me,” Mr. Spurlock says. “One time I was hit in the eyes, another season I broke my wrist.”
  His third injury on Sept. 7, 2002, proved to be the most costly, however.
  Driving home late that night on the back roads of this rural community about 25 miles northeast of Richmond, something happened to Mr. Spurlock’s car. He doesn’t remember what.
  Mr. Spurlock guesses the accident happened about 2:30 a.m. His car flipped over on the side of the road, landing top down. No other vehicles were involved that he can recall. No alcohol was involved.
  “I remember lying there and not thinking much,” Mr. Spurlock says. “Eventually, someone saw me and called the cops, but … I was really out of it.”
  It was more than three hours before police arrived, and later an ambulance.
  “I have no idea who called it in. No one has ever stepped forward to say they saw it and the cops didn’t know,” he says.
  Mr. Spurlock spent more than two months in the hospital. The accident left him paralyzed from the chest down. The ranch home where he lives with his family has been modified with a large ramp so he can easily maneuver his motorized wheelchair.
  When he’s not in physical therapy, Mr. Spurlock watches movies his favorite being “The Fast and the Furious” or “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” his favorite TV show.
  “There is nothing I can set for myself as a goal as to how far I can improve,” he says. “It’s more of a case of what I can do now and keeping that up as a goal.”
  Thinking of what Mr. Spurlock was going through and how his life had changed motivated the team in ways most people cannot even imagine, teammates say.
  “The bottom line about this whole season was that we had it on our minds from the first day after your accident that we were going to win this for you and that this win was going to be all about you,” Mr. Atkinson, a cashier at the local Cosco, tells Mr. Spurlock.
  While his dreams of playing hockey are over, his goal of being an automotive designer are not. Mr. Spurlock’s room is decorated with countless pictures of cars. He plans to take online classes starting this summer and hopes to enroll at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond in the fall.
  “There would be too much responsibility for me to live on campus, everyone saying you can’t do this, you can’t do that. But I know I can still design cars, so that’s what I will do,” he says.

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