Former “Crazy Canuck” downhill ski racer Dave Irwin says he’s living proof that determination and hard work will help one recover from a severe brain injury.
Irwin, a member of the national men’s downhill ski team that became known for their go-for-broke style of the 1970s, encouraged 28 participants before they cycled off in Saturday’s Berry Architecture Wellness Ride.
It was raising money in support of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Central Alberta Brain Injury Society.
Irwin suffered two severe brain injuries during his racing days and then in March 2001, years after retirement, he received another injury during a training run for an extreme ski-cross event. His short-term memory was derailed by the crash.
And the dynamic personality he once had was gone.
“I have improved over the last nine years due to hard work, love and support of many, my nutrients, exercise and determination,” said Irwin, who has formed a foundation that has raised $250,000 for brain injury education and programs.
Irwin said there’s a public perception that brain injuries or mental health problems are “contagious” and he wants to correct that.
“We are still part of the human race,” said Irwin, 56.
“We’re not aliens from other planets.”
His message reached beyond those with brain injuries — everyone can recover from what plagued them in the past.
“We can do whatever we want in life,” Irwin said.
“It doesn’t matter what the problem is. . . you can always get better.”
Irwin applauded those who took part in the second-annual event, including Brooke Garbutt, an outreach worker from the mental health association.
She trained for the 50 km-ride by taking a few long-distance rides with seasoned cyclist Greg Neiman, board member of CABIS and an editor with the Advocate.
“Whether I’m first or last, I’m still here,” Garbutt said.
“The fundraising was great and hopefully the ride will be great.”
George Berry said he was eager to be the main sponsor for the first time because the money will stay in Central Alberta to benefit people with mental illness or brain injuries.
“Mental health issues affect so many people,” he added.
A big cyclist himself, Berry looked forward to participating in the 100 km-ride.
The event saw cyclists travel from Michener Services in Red Deer, along Hwy 11, south along Range Rd 270, and then east along Hwy 595 to Delburne.
More than $28,000 was raised — $7,000 through corporate donations, almost $11,000 in pledges, and $11,000 through a matching $11,000 Community Spirit grant. Last year’s event raised almost $7,400 in donations, matched by a provincial grant, said Jane Ferguson, accountant for the mental health association. A total of 23 riders took part in 2009.
CABIS president Jean Stinson said she hopes the event will grow each year as it becomes more well known.