As most of you know, my dear friend Mike Sexton passed away last September. His family donated many of his personal items to a fundraising auction to benefit Poker Gives, a charity he helped to start. Shortly after the auction closed, however, I received a message from a man named Cory Nordstrand. Cory had just heard about the auction and asked if there was still time to purchase one of Mike’s items.
As it turns out, Cory has a passion for poker that might even rival Mike! Cory was dealt a bad hand in life, and was just getting started when his health took a turn for the worse, and he became a paraplegic. Despite the complete disruption of his day-to-day routine, the 32-year-old hasn’t let that affect his love for the game.
So in the spirit of Poker Gives, and Mike’s kinship with the rest of the poker community, I wanted to devote my column this issue to Cory’s story. I hope it inspires you as much as it inspired me.
“I was a college student just a few semesters short of earning my bachelor’s degree in Psychology,” said Nordstrand. “Skateboarding was my life pre-injury. In fact, it still is a big part of my life, but I use finger boards to maneuver nowadays.”
But it wasn’t skateboarding that put him in the hospital. At the age of 19, Cory started experiencing severe back pain.
“An MRI revealed that a tumor was pushing against my spinal cord,” he recalled. “Surgery was scheduled to ‘fix’ the problem. During surgery, the doctor injected a substance designed to stimulate bone growth. My Dura mater was accidentally severed, and the bone growth substance leaked into my spinal cord causing cysts to form up and down my spine. It was too much for my spine to handle and my fate was sealed. I was sent to the Mayo Clinic for more surgeries and learned that the paraplegia had been preventable, as I hadn’t really needed the bone healing fluid. The Mayo doctors put me on prednisone to help relieve pressure on my spinal canal from the cysts and to keep my symptoms and condition as stable as possible. The side effects include a weakened immune system and weak bones. In fact, I’ve broken two bones in my lower right leg and foot, and broken both of my femurs, one of them just from crossing my leg to tie a shoe!”
Despite his horrible misfortune, Cory is determined the make the most out of his life, and has found new ways to adapt to his circumstances.
“It’s not a condition that can really get better, so it’s all about learning to live,” Cory admitted. “I mostly just sit in a chair now. I have the bones of a woman in her late 80s. I’m in pain a lot and take medication on occasion, but I prefer natural remedies like stretching and meditation. I can drive using temporary hand controls that can be installed and removed, but I’d like a set of permanent hand controls and a few other things for my van to make it more accessible.”
“I wake up, shower, and eat. This takes a while since I have to hop around on my bum to do everything. I might binge some TV, play an online tournament, study poker, then go for a cruise around town in my power chair. I might have some friends over to watch a movie or play a live game of poker. I hate feeling like I don’t have a use to society, so I try to add value to the lives of the people around me. I want to leave the earth a better place, like Mike Sexton did
It make sense that Cory looked up to Mike, who was poker’s greatest ambassador. Cory started playing poker with his friends in home games back in 2007 and fell in love with the game, especially no-limit hold’em. Fortunately, his disability still allows him to play cards.
“I’m fortunate to have full control of my upper body now. There was a time that I suffered radial nerve palsy in both hands and couldn’t shuffle card or lift my hand up at the wrist. Poker needs to learn to be more inclusive and accessible. These days people with disabilities are treated pretty well across the board. But every once in a while, I encounter someone who doesn’t think I should be allowed to play.”
Cory’s bucket list consists of coming to the World Series of Poker one day and testing his skill with the game’s top players.
“It would mean the absolute world to me to go to Vegas and bump shoulders with the best of the best,” admitted Nordstrand. “It would be a dream to win a pot off Phil Ivey or to bust Phil Hellmuth.”
I want to make Cory’s dream come true. At my urging, he set up a GoFundMe page to help him pursue some of his needs and dreams. I hope the poker community agrees that it’s a worthy cause for one of our sport’s biggest supporters. I also want to thank Ryan LaPlante for taking the first steps and donating some coaching time for Cory on his training site LearnProPoker.com.
If you would like to give back to a poker friend in need, click here.
Linda Johnson is a WSOP bracelet winner and hosts tournaments, seminars, and charity events. In 2011, she was inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame. She is a partner in Card Player Cruises, and invites you to cruise with her on any of the upcoming Card Player Cruises trips. Please contact her at [email protected] with questions or comments.