Written at the invitation of The Calgary Hitmen Hockey Team
As you may already know, I suffered a major stroke back in June. I’ve always seen myself as somewhat indestructible and to be humbled beyond anything I could ever imagine left me with little to do but cling to hope and believe that I would come out of it.
Laying in my hospital bed unable to move any part of the entire left side of my body, I found myself digging deep to muster the courage to overcome the very real fear that I’d never walk again. My first thoughts focused squarely on feeling sorry for myself as I fought emotions that whispered to me that I’d never be the same man I was before. It was during those dark times that I recalled when, as WWF World Heavyweight Champion, I was so often called upon to meet sick and dying children who, sometimes as their last wish, asked to meet me because they relied on me to give them the courage to carry on. I found solace in remembering the remarkable courage of those kids and I found myself chanting silently to myself to be strong and never hope against hope.
I got amazing encouragement from so many of my ‘cell mates” on the stroke ward. An eighty year old man assured me, “Have faith! It will all come back!”
One of the most inspirational calls came from “the even greater one”, Walter Gretzky, who consoled me with the best advice, “Don’t despair, my friend, and be patient!” I still call Walter, himself a recovered stroke victim, to let him know how I’m coming along.
One friend after another came to bolster my heart. Nomi Whalen, one of Calgary’s treasures. Captain Kirk. legendary for his amazing recovery in the Foothills stroke ward from a brain aneurysm. Kirk gave me one of the first and most appreciated pep talks.
My Aunt Diana and her home made cookies. She was as close to a mother as I could get. Gerry Forbes and the huge get well card signed by thousands of Calgarians. I was unable to physically appear at the event but the card proudly stands in my living room as a constant reminder to me that my city and my fans didn’t forget me in my time of need.
If anyone ever thought it didn’t matter to visit someone in the hospital I’d like them to know that one day as I struggled barely able to hobble to and from my wheel chair I was pleasantly surprised by a visit from my close friend Tammy Christopher. Tammy could brighten anybody’s day but on this one in particular she brought along someone to let me know that the world counted on me to beat this thing. I found myself awkwardly nervous when the tables were turned and there I was face to face with one of my personal heroes, who’d taken time away from his hectic schedule, right in the middle of contract negotiations with The Flames. Smiling back at me was Jarome Iginla, as he gave me a handsome signed jersey. We talked about hockey, The Flames and his junior hockey days back in Kamloops.
And then there arrived a signed Jersey from Stan Schwartz and all The Stamps! And another one from a bunch of the WWF wrestlers.
And then there’s Olympic wrestling gold medalist, Daniel Igali. Imagine my stunned surprise when, not knowing I’d had a stroke, he called and left a message inviting me to join him for dinner with Secretary-General Kofi Annan of the United Nations and a delegation of African dignitaries! Upon hearing of my stroke, the very next morning Daniel was there at my bedside, along with his coach. I doubt they realize how uplifting their support was to me and how deeply I appreciate it.
I found myself pushing even harder to fulfill a promise I made to myself only hours after having my stroke - that I would walk unassisted to my Hitmen season seats on the game opener. I kept that promise - and was touched beyond words when the team asked me to put the puck down that night. It was then that I experienced an interesting irony in the HItmen locker room when a lot of the players came to me one by one and offered me genuine words of encouragement - a role reversal that upended my psyche and provided me much inspiration.
And I kept other promises that I’d made to myself to be able to once again do simple things I’d taken for granted. Sipping a cup of coffee. Holding a newspaper. Swimming. And yes, riding my bike, which is how the accident happened in the first place. Even chasing my dog! More than ever I drew unlimited strength, love and encouragement from my wife, Julie and my four children. And without the tireless effort of my assistant. Marcy, my life would have fallen apart.
My stroke was six months ago already and I say with great enthusiasm that I think I’ve gotten past the worst of it now.
Thank you, Calgary, from the bottom of my heart, for being there for me!
I am profoundly grateful.