Wildcats goalie Zevnik helps fan recover from stroke
February 16, 2015
By Zach Duncan, Times Record News
Jean Kosarek has always been a sucker for a cute boy with a nice smile.
But her daughter said that wasn’t the only reason the Wichita Falls hockey fan chose David Zevnik to be the Wildcat she followed at the beginning of last season.
The 77-year-old woman also selected Zevnik because he was a goaltender, a position Kosarek has had an affection for ever since she met Moose Panik at her granddaughter’s skating lessons. The former Rustlers goalie always struck up a friendly conversation.
So just like she does every year since moving to Wichita Falls in 2007, Kosarek flipped through all of the 2013-14 team photos and made Zevnik her latest favorite player.
Little did anyone know at the time that Zevnik would play a crucial role in Kosarek’s long-term recovery from a stroke that changed her life six months ago.
“I wholeheartedly believe that David’s involvement in my mom’s recovery has been just as important as any traditional therapies that she has received,” her daughter Margaret Trebing said. “When he’s there, she works harder. She tries harder.”
Kosarek had already started asking her daughter this summer about season tickets and if Zevnik was coming back. She moved to Wichita Falls from a small Illinois town eight years ago and became hooked on hockey.
But on Aug. 21, Kosarek suffered a severe stroke that she’s still trying to recover from. Margaret knew the perfect motivator for her mother’s rehab.
“When she was in the hospital and we weren’t sure she was going to make it, I mentioned the Wildcats and David and she would smile,” Margaret said. “I told her I promise you if you fight this, we would have David visit you.”
Margaret reached out to the Wildcats, who told her it would be no problem for Zevnik to stop by. She figured he’d stay 10-15 minutes, say a few encouraging words and be on his way.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
Zevnik spent three hours on his first trip to Texhoma Christian Care, and before leaving, he gave Margaret his cell number and made plans to visit again.
The 21-year-old from Minnesota had met Kosarek last season when she helped sponsor his trip to the 2014 Top Prospects Tournament. But their cordial relationship has added an entirely new dimension now.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I saw her through these past couple months progress and seen her get a lot better from her stroke and recovery,” Zevnik said.
Margaret promised her mother that if she continued to improve, Jean could attend a Wildcat hockey game. The dangled carrot worked, and on Nov. 9, Kosarek made it to Kay Yeager Coliseum for the first time since her stroke.
While purely coincidental, Zevnik recorded his only shutout in 60 NAHL games in a 3-0 victory against Amarillo.
Kosarek has attended all 14 games since that special evening with Margaret and her husband Mike, hockey fans who arrived in Wichita Falls about the same time the Rustlers came in 2002.
They now sit in the handicap row on the suite side of the KYC, and although aphasia as a result of the stroke prevents her from speaking much, Jean is cognizant of her surroundings.
Kosarek proudly wears Zevnik’s jersey that was recently purchased at the annual “Jersey Off Our Back” auction that benefits Children’s Miracle Network.
There’s another special story behind that, too.
She tried bidding on the jersey, but someone else purchased it for $1,300. Thanks to the generosity of multiple parties, the jersey was handed over to the family.
Among Kosarek’s past chosen players she followed were guys like Adam Cardwell and Sean McKenzie, talented forwards with an edge who never backed down from a fight.
“She liked the bad boys back then. David is an amazingly good boy,” Margaret said. “They just make her smile. They’ve all been real good and nice, but David has gone out of his way to make himself a part of her recovery.”
Zevnik meets Jean at the stairs to say hello after games. He brought a couple Wildcat teammates with him once to visit, and there are plans for dinner soon.
“They’re great people. Her mom tells me whenever I come visit, it brightens her day,” Zevnik said. “If it’s something that simple, I’d love to help out and help her get better.”
While she can’t talk, Kosarek carries around a book with pictures Margaret made that tells the story of an unlikely relationship between two unique people separated by 56 years.
“I can’t express enough how grateful we are to him and how important it is to her health,” Margaret said. “How much she has improved because of her relationship with David.”