MINNEAPOLIS — Eleven years ago, a 16-year-old high school sophomore skated onto the ice in a JV hockey game for Benilde-St. Margaret's and never skated off.
Jack Jablonski took a hit into the boards that left him paralyzed.
In the weeks, months and years since, Jack has been telling his story of recovery and resilience, determined to walk again.
But in all that time – those years we saw him in rehab, college, and now in a job in the NHL – he was keeping a secret.
Until two weeks ago only a few people knew that Jack was gay.
"I am gay" were three words that were a long time coming, for Jack.
"For 26 years, that is not something I ever said aloud or even wanted to think," he said. "But it's refreshing…but also I think for the biggest thing is it's relieving because in my head it was this way and always has been I just didn't realize it."
When Jack decided it was time to tell all the people who have supported him over the years his truth, he went to social media, and to Michael Russo of The Athletic, who wrote a sometimes painful, and more times inspiring story about a young man thrust into the spotlight as a teenager because of a devastating injury, who also was a teenager discovering who he was.
"You know, for the life I have lived for the last 10 to 11 years, I've been so fortunate for so much support, especially in the Minnesota community," Jack said.
"It felt scary to me to come forward and tell everyone who I really was because I didn't want anything to change. I didn't want people who supported me to then be caught off guard and be mad they supported because I wasn't who they thought they were in their eyes."
Jack was so scared he says he battled depression and thoughts of suicide.
"Because of the realization of the steps that I knew I had to take and how hard that was going to be to get to where I am today now, and that was to be out and proud, that was something I struggled with for quite a while," Jack admitted. "Thankfully I am here to tell the story but there were times where I didn't know if I would be, and it's scary to look back, for sure. I'm just glad that I'm here."
Today, the 26-year-old works in communications for the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL, a job in pro sports he is thrilled to have. But being in the pro male sports world was also why he wanted to say he is gay, publicly.
"No question it's scary, because there's no one in the NHL that's out and gay," Jack said. "Hopefully someday, and soon, there will be and it's accepted, but again, as much as I did this for myself, I hope to have made this journey for someone going through the same thing a little bit easier for that next person."
Jack says for the last two weeks since saying he's gay, he's received support from the vast majority of people. And for those who have been a little more tepid in their acceptance, or questioning why he came out in such a public way, he had this to say:
"For anyone who wanted to know why it was important for me to come out publicly the way I did, it's because I wanted to not only free myself and be able to move forward but to help normalize this for anyone that is going through what you and I have been though.
But also in the sports world, if you are going through this, if you are gay, it's fine. It's great and you can be who you want to be and it will be OK."
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