Sometimes he still feels numbness in his hand, a little blurry vision or an occasional migraine. These are the daily realities for Birch Bay resident Jordon Sigalet who has relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS).
In reflection, he may have experienced symptoms of the disease as much as two years before he was actually diagnosed in 2004. He didn’t know because he thought they were symptoms of another condition: Being a star hockey goalie at Bowling Green State University.
“It really took a few months for the diagnosis to sink in,” explained Sigalet. “I blamed it on anything I could, like a pinched nerve in my back or something related to the games I had played the few days prior to my first symptoms.”
MS is an incurable, chronic, inflammatory condition of the nervous system. It is the most common, non-traumatic, neurological disease in young adults, with over 400,000 Americans affected.
Despite his diagnosis, Sigalet continued to play goalie for the Falcons. Already drafted out of high school by the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Boston Bruins, Sigalet chose to accept a full-ride scholarship to Bowling Green first. There he amassed an impressive resume.
He was the first goalie in Bowling Green history to be named team captain. He finished his career there with a 34-46-16 record and four shutouts. In 2003-04, Sigalet was a CCHA first team all-star and in ‘04-’05 was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for top U.S. hockey player.
After college, Sigalet expressed concern about going public with his condition. Would the Boston Bruins still be interested in their seventh round draft pick?
“It turned out that when I finally did go public, six months after being diagnosed, that they (the Bruins) were some of my biggest supporters. I went on to sign a contract, three years straight, spending time between the Providence Bruins and Boston, despite my diagnosis.”
At Providence, Sigalet had an excellent 34-16-4 record with three shutouts. He was named Providence’s Man of the Year for his numerous charitable efforts and was nominated for the same award in the American Hockey League.
He was called up to play for Boston six games in his career.
However, the specter of his disease did not lay dormant. In his final season with the Bruins, Sigalet had a major attack while on the ice in Providence.
The episode left the goalie in a wheel chair for a month. He did return to finish his season but, afterwards, teams were reticent to extend a contract to Sigalet, the risk now tangibly seen. So, Sigalet left to play in Europe, first in Russia and then in Austria.
“It’s a lot easier on the body to play a 40 game season than the 80 game season they play over here.”
After retirement, Sigalet was asked by an old friend to join him coaching goalies. Sean Murray is the founder and president of ProFormance Goalie schools and was one of Jordon Sigalet’s first coaches.
“I coached him when he was 11,” Murray said of his protégé, “And I could tell right away that Jordon was going to be special.”
Murray has maintained a close relationship with Sigalet. He was the first of Murray’s students to sign with the NHL. Since then, 11 of Murray’s students have gone on to play professional hockey.
Sigalet’s new role has given him an opportunity to teach aspiring goalies from Seattle to Vancouver. Sigalet, who recently moved to Birch Bay, is a Canadian citizen and a permanent U.S. resident.
His wife, Lindsey, is American. Sigalet and ProFormance will be holding a goalie camp at the Bellingham Sporting Complex on April 17 and 18.
“Hockey has always been a passion,” he explained, “I want to be involved in the game in some shape or form; and teaching is a great way to take what I have learned over the last 20 years of playing hockey and sharing it with those around me. Not only hockey but what I learned about life after what I have gone through, being diagnosed
As it is with all who suffer from relapsing MS, the prognosis for Sigalet is day to day. It has been almost six years since the episode in Providence. He is on a regimen of three weekly doses of Rebif, injected subcutaneously. Rebif is interferon beta-1a and inhibits relapses of MS.
“It wasn’t easy, at first, trying to play hockey, go to school and take three injections a week as (they) sometimes have side affects. The biggest thing I have to watch out for is getting too overheated; that I get a lot of rest, eat well and take care of my body.”
According to the manufacturers, the side affects can include flu-like symptoms, headache, fatigue, fevers, rigors, chest pain and malaise as well as possible depression, liver failure and anaphylaxis.
“Once I got used to the medications and balanced my life, things became a lot easier,” he said
Sigalet credits support from his wife, teammates, family and friends in helping him overcome so many obstacles.
“That makes life so much easier, day to day, to the point where there are days that I don’t even realize I have MS.”
Sigalet’s perseverance and drive has carried through to his new life as a motivational speaker and a goalie coach despite the diagnosis of MS and the possibility he may never play hockey again.
“Those are the words that have driven me and lit a fire under me. The philosophy that helps get me through every day has been that I have a tool with my hockey that can do a lot to spread awareness and raise some money for the disease.
“It always sounds cliché when people say you need to live each day to its fullest but that’s how I’ve begun to live my life,” Sigalet reflected, “ I kind of treat it like it’s just another game I have to win.”