Meet our Presenters
With only some roofing experience, Jake’s landlord asked him and his friend to replace the shingles on the roof of the house they rented. If they fixed the roof, they would get a free month’s rent - sounded like a good deal to them! He knew it was unsafe and illegal to roof without a harness, but harnesses could get in the way of completing the work quickly so Jake and his roommate chose not to wear them. While setting the last shingle, Jake stood up too quickly from a squatting position and got a head rush. Due to his proximity to the edge of the roof, he fell. Jake is now a quadriplegic.
When Sheri-Lyn was only 18, her life was changed in an instant. She went out with friends to a new club in Mississauga. While there they met some guys who later offered them a ride home (the girls had originally planned on taking a taxi home). The car was a four-seater but all seven of them squeezed in. While driving on the highway at about 140 km/h, the driver, who had been drinking earlier in the night, lost control and the car flipped seven times. Sheri-Lyn was ejected from the car. She spent many months in hospital and rehabilitation and is now paralyzed from the chest down.
While at an end of summer party, Jesse decided to try ecstasy and cocaine. After taking the drugs, he left the party alone on his skateboard. In his altered state, Jesse climbed on a house roof and jumped off. When Jesse woke up and couldn’t move, he started yelling loudly until he was finally discovered and brought to the hospital. That night, Jesse broke his back and will never be able to walk again.
Nine years ago, Fernando was on a road trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas with his wife and daughter. They were hit head-on as a result of a pickup truck blowing a tire in the oncoming lane. Fernando was sleeping in the back seat when the crash occurred and wasn’t wearing his seatbelt properly. Fernando broke his neck and suffered major abdominal injuries. Now he is a quadriplegic.
On his way home from school, Sean and his friends cut through an active rail yard, a popular route in his small town. Many in the community had been ‘train hopping’ for years but no serious injuries had occurred to this point. Often, Sean and friends would climb through the moving trains to get through, so they didn’t have to wait for the whole train to pass. On this day, that’s what Sean decided to do. While crossing between the moving train cars, Sean’s foot slipped, his bag got caught and he was swung underneath the train. Sean lost his left arm and leg and has spent several years learning to adapt to his permanent injuries.
After completing his second year of an applied justice degree and looking forward to enlisting as a full-time member of the Canadian Forces, Kyle was heading out for a summer job interview near his Calgary home. As usual, he hopped onto his bike wearing an iPod but no helmet. Kyle didn’t bother to look over his bike before starting out and he admits he rarely had the bike tuned up. That day, while cycling down a steep dirt hill near the bike path, his brakes wouldn’t work. Kyle lost control and fell off his bike, breaking his back and injuring his head. He calls the three months he was in hospital the worst time of his life. Kyle is now a paraplegic, living in Vancouver. “It’s very complicated living in a wheelchair,” he tells students, “and I just want you to know how difficult it is from your chair and not from mine.”
Logan Van Dyk
In his final year of high school, Logan fell in with a new group of friends he now realizes was the wrong crowd. After barely scraping through his last year of school, he was living with a friend after a falling out with his family. One day, the friend borrowed Logan’s bike, returning to tell him he’d found a great jump in a construction site that Logan should try. Logan was dubious but he acted on peer pressure and attempted a vey high jump on his mountain bike that he isn’t sure to this day his friend had actually tried. He didn’t set up his landing properly and his shocks bottomed out, sending his nose into his chest and breaking his neck. Logan is now living at home with his family and is a quadriplegic. He tells young people, “I’m not telling you to live your life in fear of getting injured. I am simply telling you to listen to your gut feeling before you do something that could potentially harm you, no matter how much your friends tease you or call you names. Because I have learned that being cool for a moment is not worth a life of regret.”
Teri was working full-time, modelling part-time and “partying five nights a week” when she took her first international trip to Australia to visit a friend. After she and her girlfriend had drunk a few alcoholic coolers, they hopped into her friend’s car to drive to the beach. Zooming along at about 140 km/h on a gravel road, her friend crashed the car on a hairpin turn. The car flipped end over end three times and Teri felt the roof come down on her head, before she lost consciousness. She spent weeks recovering in Australia, where she learned she would never walk again due to quadriplegia, before she was able to return to her Vancouver home. Teri says she’s lost a lot but she looks towards the future and now understands that “some risks are just not worth taking… I never drive recklessly and always speak up if I feel uncomfortable or unsafe.”
Chris survived his first brush with serious injury when he drove after a couple drinks and crashed his car. His childhood friend broke his back and landed in a wheelchair but Chris had just cuts and bruises. A police officer later told the guilt-ridden 18-year-old some of the worst crashes he’d attended to were caused by people who had drunk only a little, enough to impair their judgment but not enough to make them drive extra slowly or cautiously. Having learned his lesson, Chris later often acted as a designated driver for friends. One night, he left his car at home and was drinking heavily at a party. He accepted a ride home from a driver he wrongly thought was sober. The driver veered off the road, bounced off a house and landed against a tree. Chris was lying down in the back seat, unbuckled, and the crash left him a quadriplegic. Chris tells students, “The reason I am here today is because I have made all the bad choices so that you don’t have to. Please learn from my mistakes because if I can help prevent one needless injury, that will help me cope.”
A headstrong, ambitious 17-year-old with an active social life and several part-time jobs, Susan was training one night for her new passion of road cycling. She was in a bad mood after arguing with her mother and refused to put on her helmet, even though her coach told her to do so. After a false start by the first rider, an impatient Susan was the first to head out on a timed interval race. Determined to get a great time, she kept her head down, following the white line on the side of the rural highway near Saskatoon. As a result, Susan didn’t see the parked semi-trailer truck at the side of the road and slammed right into it. The impact broke her neck, paralyzing her from the neck down. She says of her life today, “Get frustrated or move on – it’s often a choice but one I wouldn’t have had to make if I had only looked up that night.”
Jade had had his driver’s licence for just three days when he picked up two of his best friends to go for a drive. The friends often did risky stunts for a rush. So when Dieter suggested riding on the hood of the car, they all agreed. But as Jade picked up speed, Dieter began to slip off the car and Jade slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting him. Dieter fell and slid down the road on his head. He nearly died and now lives with a permanent brain injury. Jade, uninjured, was charged, lost his driver’s licence for five years and felt ostracized by his family and community. He left his small town in Alberta and moved to British Columbia to start his life over. As a presenter, Jade helps educate young people about thinking through whether “it’s a smart risk or a stupid risk, because things happen so quickly and you can’t take them back.”
George was a fun-loving, reckless youth who says his mother’s strong religious convictions suggested to him that God would protect him, no matter what he did. Having grown up in rural New Brunswick, George loved to work with wood and became a home-renovation contractor. Among his many work tools, George bought a set of climbing spikes, which he used to climb and to remove trees that had to be cut from the top down. One mild fall night, George went raccoon hunting with an experienced hunter friend and his dog. At one point, the dog chased a raccoon up a tree but the men couldn’t spot it. Against his friend’s advice, George climbed a tree to look for the raccoon but he wasn’t wearing his usual climbing spurs and safety belt. A branch broke and George fell at least 15 feet to the ground, landing on a large rock, breaking his neck and fracturing his skull. Now paralyzed from the chest down, George tells students, “I’m not here today to moan. I’m here to try and prevent any one of you from taking stupid risks and ending up in my place.”
Blair was always a risk-taker, favouring extreme sports and even a high-risk occupation as a structural steel ironworker. He was at a friend’s cottage at the end of a glorious Canada Day filled with canoeing, fishing, fireworks, and topped off by a night at a club dancing and “drinking far too much.” Under a starry sky, alone on the edge of his friend’s dock at 2:30 in the morning, Blair pondered whether to dive or walk into the water. Unfortunately, he chose to dive and broke his neck in the unfamiliar, shallow water. Submerged, he couldn’t move his limbs to swim to the surface and after a couple gulps of water, Blair lost consciousness. He was discovered 10 minutes later and after CPR, was “brought back from the dead” although he’s now quadriplegic. “I believe that the most important key to life is taking the time to stop and thoroughly think about the choices that you do make,” Blair tells students. “Try not to just think about the moment, think about what the outcome might be based upon the choice that you do make.”
A self-described “hands-on guy” happily employed in construction and months from marrying his fiancée, Joey was heavily into riding motocross bikes with his friends. He always wore the gear – helmet, kneepads, chest protector, kidney belt, riding boots and gloves, and realized later, “I was thinking I was invincible with my gear on.” One summer day, Joey was dirt-biking with friends and a couple of others he didn’t know, on rural trails just over the Ontario border in Quebec. Joey got into the lead and was speeding up a hill when he hit a rock protruding from the ground, sending him flying off his bike into a large rock face on the side of the trail. Joey broke his back and is paralyzed from the waist down. He believes his gear saved him from even more serious harm. He reminds students, “You’re not invincible. There’s a limit to everything. I pushed mine too far.”
Anita was looking forward to a career as either a physiotherapist or chiropractor. She and her twin sister went for one last trip of the season to the cottage after graduating university. On their way home, they noticed the smell of burning rubber and after pulling over, they stopped at a gas station. The attendant told them their tire treads were low but should get them home okay, but they should then replace their tires. Further on, the tire blew on the highway and Anita’s sister lost control of the car. They went off the road and the car flipped. Anita broke her neck and sustained quadriplegic injuries, while her sister had minor injuries. Anita realized afterwards they hadn’t kept their car well maintained and that continuing to drive on badly worn tires led to their devastating crash.
An active young girl, Melissa (Missy), 12, was out shopping with her mother one night. On the way home, they passed the scene of a car crash and Missy told her Mom she felt lucky nothing bad like that had ever happened to them. Minutes later they crested the top of a hill and a drunk driver crossed the median and hit her mother’s car head on. Her mother was killed at the scene and Missy broke her back, leaving her paralyzed from the belly down, while the drunk driver was uninjured. Missy was in the hospital a few days before her father broke the news to her of her mother’s death. Missy relates to students what it was like watching her twin sister grow up, a continual reminder of what her life might have been like had she not been injured. Missy talks to students about how their decisions on risk can affect others, not just themselves.
Feeling “on top of the world” after playing on his high school’s winning football team and in his graduating year, Ian was on Christmas holidays when he went snowboarding with a friend. He had snowboarded only a couple of times before and was borrowing a board he was thinking of buying from a friend. He admits he couldn’t even make it to the bottom of a hill without falling. But this day, after a couple of minor and uneventful falls, Ian and his friend decided it was time to try for some “big air”. He tried to do a flip off a jump in the snowboard park but landed on his head, breaking his neck. Ian is now paralyzed from the chest down. He wants to help students understand it is possible to get seriously hurt doing a fun activity like snowboarding. “I never thought about it when I was that age. I never thought I could get hurt.”
Rob was out for a Sunday bike ride with friends when he and a friend came across a jump set up in the forest terrain. Rob tried it, having never attempted the jump before, and messed up the landing when he took off. Rob fell off the bike and broke his back, rendering him paralyzed from the waist down.
Chris had just finished university and was on his last day of holidays before starting his summer job when he and his girlfriend went to join friends for a day of waterskiing and “fun in the sun.” They picked up snacks and beer and were heading back on the short drive to the campground – so short that Chris believes he may not have worn his seatbelt. Busy chatting, he didn’t notice the freight train approaching the unmarked crossing into the campground in time. The train crashed into his car and Chris was thrown 20 metres, breaking his back on the doorframe on the way out. Chris is paralyzed from the waist down and suffered slight head injuries. He tells audiences he wasn’t reckless in trying to beat the train – “Fact is, I was careless.” But no longer. “I play hard but I play safe. I learned the hard way that life is too fragile not to take precautions.”
Eric was a member of the military. “We take risks but we always made it safe.” He had ridden motorcycles since age 15 but it had been some years since he’d owned one. Eric bought a new cruiser and took a motorcycle safety course to sharpen his skills. He was on the first group ride of the year, with a couple of experienced friends and their children. Eric had his friend’s 11-year-old boy on the back of his bike as they travelled down a winding country road in Nova Scotia. A pickup truck veered into Eric’s lane and he knew he couldn’t get out of the way in time. He reached back and grabbed the boy’s hand to throw them both clear. Eric’s leg had to be amputated and his passenger sustained 44 breaks in his leg. While the boy recovered, Eric now uses an above-the-knee prosthetic. He tells students, “I would have moments in my own house where I was trapped in my living room with no main floor bathroom. My own family would have to take care of my bathroom needs. Think about your parents being in that position – or you – where they would have to take care of you.”
Krystle was injured at age 13 when she was coming home from the beach with family friends. Her injury resulted from a number of factors. First, Krystle was wearing her seatbelt incorrectly, with the chest strap under her arm instead of across her shoulder. Second, the driver of the car she was in failed to signal when making a lane change. Finally, the driver of the car behind was on his cellphone, which meant he missed their car changing lanes. He hit the car Krystle was in and it spun into oncoming traffic and was hit again. Krystle broke her back and is now paralyzed from the waist down. She helps young people “to think before they get behind the wheel and to see what could happen. I want to make them think twice before doing an activity, before they take the risk.”