Goaltender Has New Perspective On Life

By Rob Mueller
Staff Writer
The Augusta Chronicle
November 1, 2003

Hockey has been Jeff Salajko’s life for as long as he can remember.

These days, life means something different to the longtime ECHL goaltender. These days, life is a precious gift the 28-year-old Salajko cherishes.

Salajko’s perspective on life changed last summer when he was rocked with the news that ended his hockey career.

“Hockey had been No. 1 my entire life,” Salajko said in the Toledo Blade. “But I finally had to realize I may have had my last chance.”

Salajko was told by doctors at the Mayo Clinic that he had the signs of a rare disease that ended the life of one of baseball’s all-time greats – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Salajko first realized something was wrong when he joined the Toledo Storm in March for the ECHL playoffs. After backing up Doug Teskey in the first round of the postseason for Toledo, Salajko was unable to continue because of fatigue and frayed nerves.

A few months later, Salajko had a difficult time climbing stairs, and his muscles would regularly twitch and spasm. That was when doctors first raised the possibility of ALS and began testing for the disease.

Recently, Salajko received some promising news. Doctors now believe he might have a disorder called Benign Fasciculation Syndrome, a disease with many of the same symptoms as ALS, but one that is not life threatening or as crippling. He will undergo more tests this month with the hope of ruling out ALS altogether.

A 10th-round pick of the San Jose Sharks in the 1993 NHL draft, Salajko posted a 148-125-31 lifetime record, playing all but 52 of his 323 pro games in the ECHL with Columbus (Ohio), Arkansas, Reading, Peoria, Charlotte and Toledo.

Salajko owns several ECHL goaltending records and is at the top of several all-time statistical lists. He is one of only two ECHL goalies with two 30-win seasons and, entering the 2003-04 season, had the third-highest single-season save percentage (.933 with Columbus in 1997-98).

His 35 wins for Columbus that year is the third-most in a season, and his 15,450 minutes is the fifth-most in ECHL history.

The Augusta Lynx and former coach David Wilkie tried to sign Salajko last November, but Salajko ended up with the Charlotte Checkers, and Augusta ended up with veteran goalie David Brumby.

“You really don’t realize how much you take your health for granted until you get a scare,” said Salajko, who now lives in Jacksonville, Fla., with his wife, Karen, who is the executive producer for the NBC affiliate there.

For now, Salajko is taking medication to help control his twitching muscles and sensitive nerves, and he has gained back much of the 20 pounds he lost over the summer.

Though he wanted to retire from hockey on his own terms, Salajko truly knows what’s important now.