LOS ANGELES - “It’s paradise, I love it,” says Jack Jablonski.
Paradise is one way to describe it, but the natives just call it Wednesday.
Welcome to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
The home of Tommy Trojan and 44,000 students.
And one of them is a tan-looking sophomore buzzing his way across campus.
Sunny California looks good on Jack Jablonski, but he will tell you, that's only after he was able to step out of his own shadow.
“Being able to build friendships out here because of who I was and not because what I was known to be in Minnesota was a great opportunity and a great way to get a reboot in life, “ says Jack.
That reboot took a lot of courage. It could have been so easy for Jack to stay in Minnesota after his hockey accident in 2011 left him paralyzed.
After all, he had so much support from so many people. But now, when he looks back, he realizes that constant attention smothered the real him.
“It brought a person out of me that wasn't always me. I was forced to be someone I wasn't sometimes in public and having to always be on my game - having to talk to people,” says Jack.
“I think he's grown up a lot, he really has become independent, and he can put my mind at ease a lot quicker than I can put his mind at ease,” says Jack's mom, Leslie Jablonski.
But that only happened for Jack's parents Leslie and Mike after their son made a big decision following his first semester at USC. He joined a fraternity.
“It gives him that brotherhood he had here with his buddies,” says Leslie.
“Coming to USC, I lost that,” says Jack. “If I hadn't joined a fraternity here I don't know if I'd still be here. Being able to have 130 brothers that will do anything for me and help me out in any situation.”
It's obvious Jack is happy, but that doesn't mean he's not challenged by his circumstances every day.
He undergoes a grueling two-hour therapy session three times a week. The first hour alone is spent stretching his muscles, increasing his range of motion and in turn, increasing the sensation in his body. Progress is being made because Jack is determined to make it happen. And you can't help but be inspired.
“”I always say about Jack that he's a pillar of hope for many, many, many people, and I think for a person of his age he does very well with that kind of pressure,” says Christel Mitrovich, Renew Health Therapist.
“The body's not made to be sitting 24 hours a day, so being able to get up and stand is very beneficial for me,” says Jack.
He spends the final hour of therapy in a standing wheel chair. This is his favorite because it's here where he can look down, not up.
“I was 5'8 before I was injured and now I'm 6'2, so never really had the opportunity now you do, take advantage of it, right?” says Jack.
There's a purpose behind the pain. This intense therapy keeps Jack ready to possibly be a candidate for the next cutting-edge technology in spinal cord research.
Much has happened in this field over the last five years and Jack is forever hopeful.
“I believe I'll walk again and I don't know how far down the road that will be but technology is truly amazing,” says Jack.
Until that happens, Jack continues to face reality head-on. He knows the odds are against him walking again, but then again, look how far he's come in five years.
“Looking back to December 30, 2011, I don't think I would have ever fathomed being at Southern Cal living a dream life,” says Jack. “The biggest thing is I'm happy with where I am and where life is going and hopefully it will continue.”