by Cathy Cuff-Coffman

This summer, we are sharing updates about three of the amazing people featured in prior Shalieve stories. Our first feature is Gabe Piselli. Read his original Shalieve Story here.

Gabe Piselli: Wheels Down on Ice!

On March 23, 2024, Gabe Piselli quietly marked his five-year “life day,” the day a giant tree fell on him and, in an instant, forever changed his life by thrusting him into paralysis.

We featured Piselli on our site two years ago. He was three years into his mindset of being a “temporary paraplegic.”

These days, Piselli takes a more measured approach to his injury. “At this point, I’m plateaued out,” admits Piselli. He still attends the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore for intensive PT.

“I’m going to talk with them while I’m down there next,” says Piselli. He notes he has had some impressive changes since we last spoke– “My quads are like tree trunks,” he says, indicating muscle response and growth. But independent walking has not come to fruition.

Scaling Back Treatment

“There’s not much more I can do at this point unless they come out with some new kind of intervention,” sighs Piselli. The treatment at Kennedy Kreiger is covered under Piselli’s insurance; however, Piselli covers the cost of the hotel, meals, and travel expenses from the Philadelphia area to Baltimore.

There’s no question that Piselli wants to get back to work. But reality has struck him hard: He realizes that his recovery has hit a plateau, and his marketable skill set includes everything related to the outdoors and working with his hands.

While his sons were practicing hockey at IceWorks, Piselli picked up a few hours working at the Pro Shop, sharpening skates and selling hockey-related equipment to the rink patrons.

Piselli is on full-time disability, but everyone can work some to supplement their disability income. “I’m not driven by money as much as I used to be,” says Piselli. He can make $15/hr. at the pro shop. “But it would be nice to find a job where I can be a real contributor and not have to (collect) disability.”

Can’t Buy Everything

Piselli ran his own company until his tree accident. Five years ago, Piselli thought, “I’ll buy my way out of (paralysis) like I used to be able to deal with other things.”

“But here we are five years later,” he says dejectedly.

Piselli saw his vast savings plummeting without seeing any significant gains in the walking department.

Hockey Rescue

His sons, Luke 10, and Dylan, 9, follow in their father’s “skate steps” and excel at ice hockey. Dylan is currently playing for a Tier I AAA team (Philadelphia Little Flyers), and Luke suits up for Tier II Delco Phantoms.

The sport is expensive, and like any good parent, Piselli and his wife Adrienne examined their finances and decided to invest in their boys.

Piselli still works out every day but foregoes anything that is not covered by insurance.

But, like most active people who suffer a life-changing injury, Piselli was still searching for a way to lead a more fulfilling life.

For Piselli, Ice hockey is a true fraternity, and has been most of his life. His sons were playing elementary school ice hockey for Marple Newtown, and the elder Piselli’s hockey buddies started cajoling him to start sharing his knowledge with the young players.

“They know I have a bunch of hockey knowledge,” says Piselli, “so they came to me and asked me to coach.”

Naturally, Piselli was hesitant. He theorized he couldn’t offer the kids much, especially from a wheelchair. But the other coaches insisted, pointing out that as a teenager in the mid -90s, Piselli’s Tier II hockey team, The Quakers, went to USA Hockey’s National tournament.

Piselli recalls he contacted the local USA Hockey and took its 10 learning modules, including Safe Sport– which covers bullying and sexual harassment and what should be reported.

Coach Gabe

“I passed the courses and was certified as a coach for Mites [8 and under] and Squirts [10 and under],” says Piselli.

“When we got to the rink,” he explains, “my buddies would lift my chair up and then I’m sitting out on the bench in my chair!”

Piselli admits his coaching style is very verbal. “It would be if I could skate,” he notes, “but since I’m in a chair, I find I’m even more verbal!” He says he’s always asking the kids to give him “one more good shift; one more good shot; skate harder and faster!”

“Sometimes,” he says, “I realize I have to tone it down. But alls I got is my voice.”

When Marple Newtown’s elementary team won a championship, the other coaches insisted Piselli get on the ice for the team picture. “I was hesitant, but my buddies wouldn’t take no for an answer,” he says.

Ice Dreams

They opened the Zamboni doors, and Piselli wheeled out onto the ice. “I took pictures, was in the team photo, and both my boys are beside me.”

Before he exited the ice, one of the other coaches gave him his gloves and a stick. “I was playing around with the puck, and I was still able to lift the puck and shoot it,” Piselli says, proudly. He took a couple of shots on net.

“It was fun,” he says. “This year, we had a parent/coach vs. kids game,” Piselli relates. “Before that game, my buddies took me out onto the ice, and I was passing the puck with Dylan and some of the kids.”

He values interacting with and being part of the hockey culture. “It’s a lot of fun, especially with the guys that are really into it.”

It’s Piselli’s tribe. Wheels or not.