Fredericton Faculty of Arts

Disability as Opportunity Paul Campbell s Journey Back to UNB

Author: Fredericton Arts

Posted on Oct 8, 2015

Category: Student , Spotlight , Arts , Other

Now that the excitement of Orientation and start of term have passed and you have gotten that first long weekend break out of the way, it might be a good opportunity to reflect on the term so far. Hopefully by now all our new and returning students are getting settled into the rhythm of university studies. For some of you this will be your first set of midterms and papers coming due. That first term can be stressful and students may find they need some additional resources and help to develop their study skills. In that case you should take the advice of one of our alumni - Paul Campbell: "Take advantage of all the help [the university] can give you because the help is everywhere."

Paul is a brain injury survivor who suffered a major debilitating accident in 1987 after his first year at UNB. With exercise, time, effort, the right resources and help, Paul came back to UNB and then went on to complete his degrees in Arts and Education. A former UNB hockey player, Paul threw himself into exercise and learning, eager to prove he would skate again and come back to UNB. After completing his education he taught for seven years in the school system, fathered two children, wrote a book about his experiences (forthcoming, titled: Goodnight Paul: My Journey to the N.H.L, Living the Dream), reached significant fitness milestones, and organized fundraisers for Bridges of Canada.  Paul's love of learning has not diminished - he is back at UNB taking additional courses hoping to eventually get accepted into the Nursing Program where he can give back some of the care he received while in hospital and rehabilitation. Check out an abbreviated version of our conversation to learn more about Paul's experiences.

Paul Campbell

Tell me a bit about your experience at UNB.

Paul: Well I first went to UNB in 1986 when I was in grade twelve. I watched the UNB hockey team. I was captain of the Oromocto High School [hockey team]. I wanted to be the captain of UNB’s [hockey team], they were called the Red Devils then. After high school, I played a year of junior hockey with the Kitchener Rangers in the Western Ontario Hockey League. I got a semi-pro try out I guess that I had to pay for, for the St.Louis Blues Farm team in Illinois. Then I got a letter and a phone call from the UNB hockey coach, he wanted me to go to UNB. I had to go a 1000 kms away, [despite living] 10 kms away in Lincoln, to get asked to play for UNB which was kinda good because I was only 18 at the time. But I went to UNB when I was 19 and I played, I had a phenomenal year. I didn’t get the ice time but I was tied for the lead in scoring. On the ice I was kind of arrogant but off the ice I had a different persona.

Did you start out in Arts?

Paul: I was there to play hockey primarily and [take] my Arts degree. I had the dream of playing hockey professionally but every kid does right? Then I had my car accident on Christmas night in 1987. I was the designated driver. I was out visiting and I was the designated driver with a 0.00% [blood] alcohol reading. I had my seatbelt on. It was 2 o’clock in the morning so it was Boxing Day technically and [the next time] I woke up was around March 1st in 1988 and [found out] I was in a car accident. I was in a coma for 51 days, my back was broken in 3 places, my heart stopped three times, my lungs collapsed, I was paralyzed on my left side. I had to learn how to walk, talk, and tie my shoes again. I couldn’t see very well, I had to put drops in my eyes to see.

Were you in Fredericton?

Paul: Yeah, at the Stan Cassidy Centre [for Rehabilitation]. I’m very fortunate because my spinal cord was okay. It was my head going through the window that caused me to be paralyzed on my left side. I’m really lucky because I’m 46, turning 47 at the end of August, and I am in the best shape of my life after 9498 workouts since March 1st 1989.

So you went back to UNB and back into the Arts program?

Paul: Yeah! They didn’t think I could do it because I had brain damage. They weren’t sure I could sit in class. I did three years of Arts then I switched to Education.

What were some challenges you faced coming back to school?

Paul: Oh my god. I had to live downtown because I couldn’t drive for a year because my heart had stopped. So I would walk from Charlotte Street at the end. It took me about an hour, an hour and fifteen minutes to walk to the gates, then another half hour to walk up the hill. But I loved it. I absolutely loved it because to be out of that wheelchair was an amazing thing. Going down [the hill] after my night classes was just horrible because I would fall down about six or seven times because it would be dark. I still can’t control my left [side]. You can’t tell because I’ve compensated with my weight-lifting and with my exercises. I would fall down at night and I would just lie there and I had to laugh. I had to laugh because I could do nothing else. I would think of my best friend who was killed in my accident. I said to myself ‘that’s right, I’m going to play hockey again.’ I started skating, I have the video and it’s enough to make me sick. I look at it and I laugh…

The video is from when you first started skating again?

Paul: It’s from when I played at UNB and then when I first went on the ice after coming home from the hospital. Oh it’s terrible. I couldn’t make the Atom Rep team I’m so bad now. But that’s okay! Oh man, it’s just a game right. It was pretty good. I wrote an 88 page outline while I was in the hospital bed. My parents were absolutely amazing. They exercised me. They didn’t listen to the doctors. Some doctors said I had to be institutionalized, but not all of them. I’m a miracle. I’m blessed. I graduated with an Education degree and became a school teacher, taught for seven years doing supply teaching of English, Social Studies, Language Arts, whatever was needed. My children were born during that time, Abigail and Nicholas. They’re both fantastic children and I love them. They both think I’m a little different but I can understand that because I am a little different.

I’ve been asking different people about some of their favourite things from when they were a student. Did you have a favourite song back then?

Paul: I had two of them. One was Tonight is a Wonderful Time to Fall in Love by April Wine and the other was We are Family.  

What about a favourite food?

Paul: Chicken wings! When I left home at 17 to play hockey in Ontario. The guys on my team would say let’s go out it’s wing night! I was like what’s wing night? They were like “You’ve never had wings??” It became a staple at our local sports bar. They introduced wings to me.

Favourite flavor?
Honey garlic with blue cheese dip!

What was it like when you came back to UNB the second time, after your accident?

Paul: Well you gotta remember I have brain damage and I had brain damage at that time. My brain was still healing. If felt like… everything was magnified by about 100 times. When I first walked into the SUB [again] I thought maybe it was me, it felt like all eyes were on me. It felt like everything went quiet. I saw people pointing at me and all that.

Maybe they recognized you?

Probably in the paper or whatever it was because I did make the hockey news. It took me [having] an accident to make the hockey news but I finally did [make it]. I’m also going to UNB again this year. I went to UNB last year and took 2 courses and I audited a Biology course. I have this dream of maybe someday getting into Nursing because I’ve been through it. I am taking a drama course because I think it will help me to teach because I’m kind of outspoken, I’m very passionate. If I would have had that course I would have been picked for a commercial when I was five years old! I had an [audition] for a commercial [in New York City] but they didn’t pick me. I could have been the next Justin Bieber. [laughter]

Did you have any faculty members that were particularly helpful?

Paul: They all were good. Today they have more [support] for people with disabilities. Back then, they gave me extensions but I didn’t take advantage of that very often. They were very kind and if I needed help I could come speak to them. They were awesome. They were awesome then and they’re awesome now. That’s why I’m back here, I love this campus.

You said there wasn’t as much support for people with disabilities back then, do you think things have gotten better?

Paul: It’s gotten so much better it’s scary. This thing here [points at his phone] the internet, it’s everywhere, it’s ubiquitous... The SAC [Student Accessibility Centre], they gave me a recorder so I can record things. People have to study for an hour, I study for four because it takes a lot to get things in this good looking melon [points to his head], it’s not all pretty face. I remember having a difficult situation where there was a ticking noise when I doing my exams and it set me off. I didn’t get upset or anything I just couldn’t concentrate. [The SAC makes it so] I can go into a place and I can write it. UNB is so absolutely amazing. Jeremy Murray… he’s helped me put things on youtube [Bridges of Canada video on youtube]. The internet and technology is making a world of difference. Yeah they [SAC] are really good, they are awesome. Wilfred Langmaid [UNB’s Student Advocate] is a good guy [too].

What would you want new students coming into the Faculty of Arts to know?

Paul: Take advantage of all the help [the university] can give you because the help is everywhere. Professionals are really accommodating. If you have issues speak to them.  It’s a big thing about disabilities now, if you have a disability it’s not such a bad thing, you can work around it. Think of it as an opportunity, it’s an option just like if you want to colour in orange or use black and grey.

Interview conducted by Tabatha Armstrong