Jaz Krulikosky looks and acts like a typical teenager. The dark-haired, glasses-wearing Shakopee 16-year-old junior has a pleasant personality, a shy smile, and a good sense of humor. And like a lot of teens, he suffered from crippling depression.
In 2016, Krulikosky had surgery for Cavus Foot. His six hour surgery involved breaking bones in his feet, cutting nerves, and reconstructing bones. Screws were inserted into both feet, he was in casts, started physical therapy, wore special shoes, and had to learn how to walk again. “With Cavus Foot, it affected the way I walked,” he said. “I tripped a lot when I ran. It added to my depression and made it worse because I couldn’t play sports anymore.”
He started having suicidal thoughts.
“I did think about it and going somewhere to do it,” he said.
His favorite sport was football, and he was pretty good at it. He also played soccer. The inability to play sports escalated the depression. He was lying to his friends about what he was going through, withdrawing socially, and not wanting to talk to anyone, including his mother.
His mother found the razor he cut himself with, and despite his initial refusals, he agreed to see a therapist. After a few sessions, he started opening up to the therapist and being honest with her.
“She gave me mind and breathing exercises, and told me to keep a journal,” Krulikosky said. “I started writing down things about my day.”
His life took a positive turn when his mother, Rheanna Haeg, took him to a meeting of the Shakopee Trap Team. The meeting was a presentation about what to expect for students interested in joining the team. He didn’t know anyone at the meeting, but the presentation showcased a student who had participated in the state trap tournament — from a wheelchair. Krulikosky realized this is a sport he can participate in, have fun, and do well.
“I had a gun, but didn’t get a chance to use it much. I had shot trap before, but never in a club. I had shot at a farm, and I really liked it,” he said. “I joined the team, and I really liked it. Trap is a sport where I don’t have to run.”
Krulikosky owned a Remington 12 gauge pump shotgun, which he used his first year. The second year, at the trap year-end banquet, he won a Mossberg Silver Reserve, over/under 12 gauge gun. When he used it the following year, he lettered, shot a 25 out of 25 at a meet, and went to the state tournament.
“Before, I couldn’t do anything. The most I would have done was go outside and maybe walk. With trap, I looked forward to Tuesday because I can go shoot. Trap is so much fun. It’s mostly the sportsmanship. No one talks trash about you. No one is talking down to you or criticizing your ability. You can go out and have fun while shooting,” Krulikosky explained. “You don’t have the cliques like in other sports. Trap is very encouraging and a positive environment. The team is so supportive of each other.”
One of his favorite experiences happened last year. A teammate shot a perfect score and, following the trap club tradition, the rest of the members in the squad got to shoot his hat. They filled his hat with rocks, threw it like a clay pigeon, and everyone got to take a shot at the airborne hat.
“Since trap, I went from a person who was quiet and wanted to be left alone and not wanting to do anything to someone who enjoys playing a sport, finally, and meeting people who have fun,” he said. “I have friends on the team. It’s changed me to be more sociable and more talkative and more positive.”
His advice to other students who struggle with depression like he did is to get help.
“Instead of denying what you’re dealing with or what you think you should do, even if you don’t know what you’re going through, get help. Accept help. Ask for help. Talk to someone about it.”
“I don’t know where we’d be without trap,” his mother, Haeg said. “He can now be a part of something where he belongs. Everyone can belong to trap, regardless of ability. No kid should ever have to feel left out of anything. The sense of belonging, of really belonging, is very important, and trap provides that.”
Krulikosky says he plans to shoot trap in some capacity for the rest of his life and maybe even coach it someday. His mother is the incoming president of the Shakopee Trap Club, taking over for Bob Pulk, who said he started the club in 2011 for kids who wanted to participate in an activity that wasn’t a traditional sport or who didn’t feel like they fit in to other activities.
Pulk, who introduced me to Krulikosky, said the teen’s story demonstrates the responsibility coaches, teachers, and mentors have to kids — and the tremendous impact they can have on students.
“You usually don’t know what many kids in these programs are going through in their lives,” Pulk told me. “And you may not ever know that you changed or influenced a young person’s life, but we do. There’s nothing better than having someone you coached come up to you years later and saying, ‘Thank you for what you did for me. You made a difference in my life.’”