A Gustavus senior remains hospitalized after shattering her spine during a college women’s hockey game last Friday

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Published: Jan. 18, 2023 at 9:40 PM CST
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ST. PETER, Minn. (KEYC) - Friends and family describe 21-year-old Gustavus senior Heather Olinger as a positive and tough hockey teammate.

Especially since Olinger eagerly returns to play after recovering from any injury, such as the three anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears she’s had ever since middle school.

“She just loved hockey,” Olinger’s father, Chris Olinger, said.

“She’s very tough,” Olinger’s mother, Cherrie Olinger, added. “She gets up from just about any kind of injury, but when she didn’t get up and my husband heard her cry out, we knew right away that it was something bad.”

On Friday, Jan. 13, Olinger’s parents watched in horror as she was checked from behind and flew head-first into the boards, during a women’s hockey game between Gustavus Adulphus College and St. Benedict’s College.

Olinger suffered from a C-7 fracture and a T-4 burst fracture on the ice, which required immediate hospitalization and a major spinal surgery on Monday night.

Surgeons told Olinger’s parents that she had an angel on her shoulder that night and it’s a miracle Olinger isn’t paralyzed.

“Heather is one of the strongest people I know, mentally and physically, and she deserves the world,” Olinger’s friend and senior at Luther college Megan Munger said.

After hearing the news, childhood friend Megan Munger didn’t sit on the sidelines.

On Sunday night, Munger and others created a GoFundMe page with a goal to raise $500 toward Olinger’s medical bills.

But, as of Wednesday night, nearly $10,000 has been raised from over 150 donors and counting, including various hockey teams across the country.

“In the beginning, it was a lot of family, friends, people I recognized,” Munger said. “But, as it’s gotten more donations along the way, I’ve started to not recognize some names and there’s actually a hockey team from New York. Athletes are so empathetic because they know exactly how you feel because they felt pain at some point in their lives.”

On top of physical and O-T therapy, Olinger will wear a neck brace and a full body brace for three months.

Olinger hopes to leave the hospital this upcoming Saturday.

“To see all the support that the hockey community, friends and family, people we don’t even know, it is what keeps us going,” Cherrie Olinger said.

“Yes,” Chris Olinger agreed. “And it’s what keeps [Heather] going, too.”

Anyone interested in donating to Heather Olinger and her family can use this link: https://www.gofundme.com/f/donate-to-fund-heather-olingers-spinal-surgery?qid=e7d6fa12dc14480220a5ca31773d38c3