Mavryck Gatt at home. He'll need to wear the back brace for 12 weeks as he recovers from his injuries. BERNIE PUCHALSKI

His best and worst days, 24 hours apart

For the past two school years, Mavryck Gatt and his two buddies, Julian and Luca Race, have made the trek across the river to St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute to attend the Buffalo school and play prep field lacrosse.

The journey normally starts with the Race brothers picking up Gatt at his Chippawa home and then driving down Sodom Road towards the border.

Two Tuesdays ago, Gatt was still on a high from committing the previous day to attend NCAA Division 2 Lander University on a field lacrosse scholarship, and was looking forward to the start of the St. Joe’s season in less than three weeks.

As the teens travelled down Sodom Road, arguably the best day of Mavryck’s life was soon to be followed by the worst.

Lacrosse was not Mavryck Gatt’s first sport. He was seen by many as a child tennis prodigy. Contributing photographer Rosie Culos remembers seeing him play in 2010—at age 6. “It’s just been over a decade that I had the privilege to watch and snap photos of Mavryck Gatt,” Culos recalled this week, “as he participated in a tennis tournament at Centennial Park in Fenwick. I remembered thinking that I may be watching Canada’s next tennis hero.This little guy, 6 years old at the time, was athletic, focused, and had a certain energy on the court. As soon as I read his name in the Voice, I was sure this was the same youngster I saw ten years ago. I was saddened to read of his accident and wish him a speedy recovery and much future success.” ROSIE CULOS PHOTOS

“We were driving down Sodom Road just like every other day for the past two years and she was up ahead on the left,” Gatt said. “I thought she had time to go and all of a sudden she pulled out ahead of us at the last second and we didn’t know where to go. We were going the [speed] limit and we had nowhere to go. We hit her super hard and then we drove into the ditch. I think we snapped the stop sign too.”

Sitting in the back seat on the passenger side, the first concern for Gatt was the condition of the Race brothers in the front seats.

“I thought that they were not going to be all right,” the 17-year-old said. “I was shocked when they turned around and asked me if I was okay. I was stunned.”

Gatt had the wind knocked out of him and thought there was nothing else wrong until Luca opened the door and helped him out of the vehicle.

“I climbed out of the ditch and as soon as I stood up, I knew my back was definitely messed up. I tried to lift my bag up and nothing was going right. I took a seat on the road and told Luca to call my dad.”

His dad, Nathan Gatt, received that call at 7:15 AM and was at the accident scene ten minutes later.

“When I got there, I was surprised that anyone was still alive,” Nathan said. “Both cars were destroyed and it’s the worst sight you ever want to see as a parent. Mavryck was lying on the ground and he was in pain.”

An ambulance transported the teen to Greater Niagara General Hospital and diagnostic imaging revealed the extent of his injury.

“They told us that they were going to have to get him to Hamilton right away because there was a bone fragment in his spinal canal that was one millimetre away from him being a paraplegic,” Nathan said.

Mavryck was transported to the paediatric ward of the St. Catharines hospital for four hours and then moved to Hamilton General Hospital, where surgery was performed the following day.

“The neuro team was unbelievable and they are so awesome,” Nathan said. “Wednesday at 11 AM he went in for surgery and six hours later he was back in his room. By Thursday, he was already strong enough to pass physio tests.”

The surgery involved placing three inches of metal on both sides of his L1 and L3 vertebrae.

“He is a young guy so it was a high risk and high reward,” Nathan said. “If he was my age, they would have put a six-inch rod in and he would never play sports again. The way they fused everything together, it will be stronger than the rest of his spine.

“It is a long road of recovery but everything went well. In six to 12 months, he will be 100 percent recovered with full range of motion like nothing ever happened.”

After the accident and waiting for surgery, Mavryck was scared and worried, wondering if he would ever play sports or even walk again.

Mavryck has been overwhelmed by the support he has received from the lacrosse and tennis world. His father has a background in tennis and Mavryck was a former top-ranked player at the under-10 and under-12 levels.

The vehicle in which Gatt and his friends were travelling. GATT FAMILY

“I am going to get emotional again,” he said. “I don’t even know how I would be able to even manage anything mentally without it. It means a lot and it is huge. The biggest thing is being mentally strong through this and the support is helping me so, so much.

His recovery, so far, has been nothing short of remarkable.

“When they told me I wouldn’t be able to do anything for six months to a year I thought, ‘dang.’ That is really a bummer but that’s not too long. Time flies. This COVID thing has already been over a year and that is crazy.”

Four days after the accident, Mavryck was watching his little brother, Joaquin, play lacrosse in the backyard. Outfitted with a back brace he must wear for the next 12 weeks, Mavryck grabbed his stick and joined in.

“We played some catch and it just felt so natural. Playing lax helps a lot and it feels good playing and being up instead of lying in bed,” he said, adding he was shocked that he was able to be active so soon after the surgery.

“I was blown away I could do it. I couldn’t believe it. I can still do everything and it’s like nothing has really changed. My hands and everything feel the same. When I was in the hospital, I thought I was going to have to start over with everything. It is super nice to know that I still have those skills.”

He hopes those skills will be on display at Lander as soon as possible. The school is located in Greenwood, S.C., and the field lacrosse team plays in the Peach Belt Conference.

Mavryck had offers from other schools in the south, but Lander was his destination of choice.

“They already have a lot of Canadians and that is something that is attractive to me. Obviously it’s a beautiful area and a beautiful campus and they are super fresh and young. This is only their third season of playing in NCAA Division 2 and they are already performing well against very good schools in a tough division. I am ready to come in and help the program a lot.”

He is planning to study sports administration and business and can’t wait to play.

“I am looking to forward to seeing if I can really excel,” he said. “I know I am doing things to the best of my abilities right now but I haven’t played a season in almost two years now. Whenever I am able to play, I really want to showcase myself and who I am. I am looking forward to making a statement.”

 

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