At the age of 10, Zak developed a bacterial infection which spread throughout his system causing septic shock. His body was able to protect his brain and heart, but other organs suffered the effects of the toxins and lack of oxygen. Much of his tissue was severely damaged, and as a result, he required amputation of his legs and fingers.
Following his recovery, Zak attended Easter Seals Camp Horizon in Bragg Creek Alberta – a specialized, fully-accessible camp that provides outdoor adventure based programs for children and adults with disabilities and medical conditions. The experience at Camp allowed Zak to participate in all kinds of activities, and gave him the support, encouragement and confidence he needed to try new things and embrace new opportunities. In 2009 at the age of 15, Zak was named the Easter Seals Youth Ambassador for Southern Alberta.
Growing up, Zak had a passion for contact sports, and that didn’t change after he lost his legs and fingers. Six months after he got out of the hospital, Zak was on the hunt for a sport to play—one that appealed to his competitive nature and love of speed. Zak first tried sledge hockey, but was unable to hold the stick well enough to really progress in the sport.
Next, he tried wheelchair basketball—a sport in which he competed at a high level, playing for Team Alberta at the 2011 Canada Winter Games. But once again, his lack of fingers limited his progression up the national ranks.
Despite this set back, Zak was undeterred and continued to persevere. In 2011, at the age of 16, Zak was introduced to wheelchair rugby—a sport popularized by the 2005 documentary aptly named, “Murderball.” He immediately excelled in the high-speed, full-contact sport and shot up the national and international rankings, often being referred to as a “phenom” in the sport.
Despite having played for just over a year, Zak earned a spot on Team Canada for the 2012 London Paralympic Games. His incredible performance under the pressure of the Paralympic stage lifted Canada to victory in its semi-final upset of the number one-ranked American team, before narrowly losing in the finals to the powerhouse Australian team and capturing the silver medal.
Since his debut in the sport, “The Kid”, as he became known, has established himself as one of the best wheelchair rugby players in the world. He was named MVP of the 2014 World Wheelchair Rugby Championships in Odense, Denmark; the 2014 Canada Cup International Wheelchair Rugby Tournament; and the 2015 World Wheelchair Rugby Challenge. His biggest honor came when he was named Canada’s flagbearer for the Closing Ceremony of the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games, after leading Team Canada to its first gold medal in 13 years as the team’s top scorer.