EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

June 13, 2014

The goal at Andover rink: Preventing paralyzing hockey mishaps

Look-Up Line conceived to prevent ice hockey neck injuries

ANDOVER — Thomas Smith looked out at the ice surface at the Phillips Academy Ice Rink yesterday, beaming with pride.

It’s the look you’d expect from a proud papa watching his son or daughter on the ice for the first time. But Smith, 24, isn’t married with children just yet. Instead, the object of his joy, his “baby,” was the orange paint going on the ice.

The Phillips Andover rink became the second local rink to adopt Smith’s “Look-Up Line,” a 40-inch-wide line that goes around the perimeter of the entire rink. The first was at Pingree School in Hamilton.

The “Look-Up Line” was Smith’s brainchild, an idea he thinks can help save hockey players from paralyzing neck injuries.

Smith, who walks with the aid of crutches, was paralyzed, incredibly, twice from the waist down from neck injuries sustained while playing hockey.

For nearly two decades, doctors have told hockey players about the importance of keeping their heads up when near the boards. Studies have recently concluded that paralyzing injuries happen when the head is down and the player hits the boards, with the weight of his body compressing his neck. With the head up, catastrophic injuries are rare.

Smith’s bright orange line gives hockey players a visual cue to lift their heads.

Baseball gave him the idea.

“I was home one night in August of 2012 watching a Red Sox game and somebody hit a ball to deep left field,” recalled Smith, who lives in Swampscott.

“The outfielder went back and as he stepped onto the warning track he slowed down and then put his arm out, never looking at the Green Monster,” said Smith.

“That’s when it hit me. Hockey didn’t have a warning track.”

Now it does.

Smith was paralyzed temporarily when, playing junior hockey locally for the Boston Bulldogs in August 2008, he tripped over his goalie trying to stop an opposing player. He went sprawling head-first into the boards.

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