‘There’s way too many:’ Hats fundraiser for paralyzed Broncos player takes off

AIRDRIE, Alta. — A couple who offered to help with a promotion to fundraise for a paralyzed hockey player soon found themselves wearing too many hats.

Jason and Sue Bissonnette were making baseball caps to make money to help with the costs of Ryan Straschnitzki’s rehabilitation, but they couldn’t keep up when thousands of requests started rolling in.

“I thought maybe there will be a couple of hundred hats and we’ll do our part,” said Jason Bissonnette. “We’ll be part of a few grand or something, but of course that didn’t exactly work out that way.

“We’re now over 3,600 hats that have been ordered.”

The Bissonnettes didn’t know Straschnitzki before the teen from Airdrie, Alta., was paralyzed from the chest down in a crash between a semi-trailer and a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos Saskatchewan junior hockey team in April.

But they felt an immediate bond because they also live in Airdrie, just north of Calgary, and their son played hockey for years when they were living in the United States.

“He was a goaltender and was travelling just like these guys. It hits close to home to a lot of people,” Sue Bissonnette said during an interview in the family home.

The couple owns a company called The Stitching Bees, which provides promotional items for businesses as well as doing embroidery.

Several Airdrie dads had come together the day after the crash and came up with the idea of hats to help raise money for the Straschnitzki family.

The first cap — with the green and gold Broncos colours, Ryan’s No. 10 on the front and #strazstrong stitched on the back — was done just hours later.

“Those are Ryan’s colours,” said Sue Bissonnette, pointing to large spools of thread on an embroidery machine.

The couple eventually received help from Bruce Fogel of Embroidery Systems in Calgary, who offered the use of extra machines he had in stock.

Volunteers weren’t able to run the machines, though, so she was responsible for the first 1,900 hats that were made before the job was outsourced to a Montreal company.

“I felt like I’m drowning — there’s way too many,” she said. “At that point there was 1,500 hats ordered and I was on my 100th hat and I thought, ‘Oh my God. I’m going to be sick.”

The suggested price for the hats is $30, but Jason Bissonnette said many people have been giving $50 or $100 for just a single hat.

“We’ve generated over $82,000 and that’s straight to the family.”

A fundraiser for the Straschnitzki family is to be held in Airdrie next Saturday. About 150 of the hats, signed by Ryan, will be on sale.

His mother, Michelle Straschnitzki, said the Bissonnettes have been tireless in their efforts.

“They’re amazing people. They really just started out because they wanted to help and thought it would be a fun idea. It just kind of snowballed,” she said.

The Straschnitzki home will need to be totally renovated to include an elevator. Walls need to be moved, doorways widened and the bathroom adapted.

“We haven’t got a clue how much it will cost … but we’ve had a lot of people offering to help. Basically we’re just accepting help and are appreciative of it.”

The Ryan, who is 19, is undergoing physiotherapy at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia.

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