Jordan may be a former NHL’er and now goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames, but he still faces the same issues many Canadians with MS face: intermittent ability to work, and deciding whether to disclose diagnosis and suffer potential loss of future income.
The MS Society recognizes that these are very real issues that Canadians affected by MS may encounter in the workplace, and we provide a variety of programs and services, including resources about employment and income support, education events and volunteer legal advocacy programs (VLAP) in some provinces. Watch out for Jordan’s story in the next issue of MS Canada, coming out in the next few weeks!
When you read Jordan Sigalet’s Wikipedia entry, the first sentence to describe his hockey career is, “Sigalet ended the 2003 NCAA hockey season by playing his team’s last game . . . while feeling numbness across his entire body.”
The temptation to mention Jordan’s multiple sclerosis alongside the ex-NHL player’s career is understandable — he has pushed through two major MS relapses to return to the ice and finish out hockey seasons. But it would be a mistake to think Jordan is defined by his illness. “When the doctor told me I had MS, he said I may never be able to play hockey again,” Jordan says. “Those words were what drove me in the hospital during my recovery. I wanted to prove to myself and everyone else that I could still play.”
When Jordan was diagnosed in 2004, he kept his disease a secret. “Looking back,” he says, “keeping it to myself may have been the worst thing I could do. My family was back in Vancouver, so I didn’t have a lot of support where I was living. I didn’t get to network with other people who have MS, or learn different tips and tricks about living with the disease.”
Jordan was born in the small town of New Westminster, BC, where he played hockey from a young age. He knew he had found his calling when he was placed in net, and he begged his parents to let him be a goalie – despite the expense and risk of injury. He gradually worked his way up from minor hockey to play in the BCHL for the Victoria Salsa, after which he received a scholarship to play college hockey at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.
At the time of his diagnosis, Jordan was in his junior year at Bowling Green and on the cusp of realizing his ultimate dream: to play for the NHL. The Boston Bruins were showing genuine interest just as Jordan’s first MS relapse struck, taking him out of his current season for weeks as he recovered with vigorous treatment. When his teammates wondered why he wasn’t playing, he was vague about the details.
“I was scared to go public with my MS because I didn’t want Boston to sweep me under the rug,” Jordan says. “A lot of people with MS are nervous about what their workplace is going to think, and it’s not always easy to come forward.” When he did go public with his diagnosis, however, his dream of playing NHL hockey didn’t disappear as he thought it might: the Boston Bruins still called, and the team became one of his biggest supporters. Jordan felt like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
Things shifted on November 16, 2007 when Jordan collapsed during the third period of a hockey game. “When you’re moving around with 50 pounds of gear on your body, you can lose about 10 pounds of water weight per game. I was dehydrated and overheated, and my legs just collapsed out from under me. I was in a rehab centre for over a month after that. I had to re-learn how to walk.”
Jordan’s original concern then became a reality: the Boston Bruins stopped calling, as his second major relapse placed a red flag on his ability to play. “Stress, overexertion, physical activity — all those things can bring on exacerbations, and all those things relate to goaltending. No one came out and said they didn’t want me to play for them, but I knew why they weren’t calling.”
Rather than give up on a lifelong love of hockey, Jordan shifted his sights overseas and found himself playing in Russia and Vienna two years after his second major relapse. “When I was in Russia, no one ever mentioned my disease. In North America, every time I read an article about myself, it always mentions my MS. On the one hand, I’m happy to raise awareness for the disease, but it was definitely nice not to be known for it for a while.”
Jordan has since moved to Calgary, where he is now the goaltending coach for the Calgary Flames. He and his wife, Lindsay, are also kept active with two young sons, Jaxon and Maddox, and a newborn daughter, Sloan.
“I live in the moment, and I think it’s an exciting time for research,” Jordan says. “We’ve become so good at managing the disease that it gives me hope a cure is out there. It’s less of a time to be scared and more of a time to be excited.”
Follow Jordan Sigalet on Twitter @JMSigalet.