Motocross driver faces lifelong battle
He broke his back and neck in six places. Also fractured his clavicle, sternum and multiple ribs. Both his lungs collapsed.
It was the worst crash of pro motocross racer Brent (Airmail) Worrall’s career, one which has left the Chilliwack born and raised 45-year-old paralyzed, in a wheelchair, facing lengthy rehabilitation and uncertain financial woes.
Worrall is a Chilliwack secondary school graduate (class of 1984) and former Canadian champion, who was ranked No. 10 in the world in 1981.
He was doing well in his class this year when a mechanical malfunction in mid-flight flyswatted him as he attempted the track’s largest jump at a race in Walton, Ont. in August. He soared 140 feet and nose dived out of control.
“At 45 years old you don’t bounce that well anymore,” said Worrall, a father of three who left Chilliwack in the early 1990s and now lives in Vernon. “I remember hitting the ground and was conscious. Everything hurt and I was face down with the 236-pound bike on top of me. My lungs were collapsed within minutes and I was out. I woke up two-and-a-half days later and knew where I was and what had happened, sort of.”
Paralyzed from the sternum down, Brent was induced into a coma in a London health facility in Ontario where he fought for his life. His heart stopped and needed to be re-started four times.
On the eighth day after surgery to stabilize his back (three rods and 15 screws hold his backbone together now), he was deemed well enough to be flown back to Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
Brent and his girlfriend, Gisela Stieda, were told by a trauma centre team that he would have to fly in a low-flying plane because the altitude of regular flights would collapse his lungs again. He still had drain tubes in his lungs to keep fluid from pooling in them, and needed his vitals checked constantly.
“We were assured that the flight was at no cost to us. Brent arrived in Vernon Aug. 25 where he was put in isolation on the surgical ward,” said Stieda. “He had open wounds and tubes draining fluid out of his lungs. He developed a bacterial infection in his surgical scar (which runs the entire length of his body). This nearly killed him and scared us beyond belief. ”
Worrall later suffered another bladder infection and blood clot in his left leg.
Shortly before Christmas, he opted to come home after the setbacks he felt could have been avoided.
During all these months of recovery, Worrall has also been hounded by the London health facility for a $27,800 bill for the flight home.
He has tried unsuccessfully to contact B.C. Medical, while also sending an e-mail to Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes with no response.
Worrall, who finished third in the Over 40 class at the Western Canadian Championships in July, said his spinal cord was grossly dislocated. All the small vascular receptors have been destroyed, but can regenerate with time.
In an emotional YouTube video, Worrall thanks sponsors Valley Moto Sport Kelowna, Riders Edge Suspension Vernon, Goldentyre Canada, and MX Forum. He tears up, revealing how in his younger days, his life was going sideways with alcohol before he returned to motocross and turned things around.
He holds out hope he will one day walk again.
“I know of handfuls of individuals who have experienced the same fate and saw and empathized with their pain and struggle. Now that it has happened to me I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I am still the same person who loves life, Gisela, my family and the outdoors.
“Motocross has given me life-long friendships and a passion that is irreplaceable. I will harness every ounce of fortitude I used to achieve greatness in the sport of motocross and make my life a success. While still hospitalized in October, I committed to The Ride To Conquer Cancer in 2013 on a hand-pedalled wheelchair 300km from Surrey to Seattle in two days.”
Scheduled for a long overdue stay in GF Strong Rehab Centre in Vancouver next week, Worrall’s daily routine is very limited since he lives in a condo with two flights of eight stairs.
“If I want to go outside, I have to contact a strong friend and be carried up and down,” he chuckled. “We are most likely going to have to relocate but being confronted with this $27,800 medical flight bill is virtually going to make that impossible. It has caused great stress and grief for Gisela and I, who cannot believe our government is turning their backs on us.”
He said GF Strong will teach him to transfer his weight and get back into the mainstream of life.
“I’m looking out the window right now thinking about how my life has changed the last four months, and I’m ready for GF Strong,” said Worrall. “They’re going to work me.”
He was working in the service department at Kenkraft RV prior to his summer trek east “but my main goals this year were to give the three major races my best shot and then just take a more relaxed approach and involvement in the sport.”
He says support from friends in motocross is keeping his spirits high.
“That’s what makes things like this survivable: good friends, good people.”
To help Worrall in his recovery, visit: brentsrecovery.weebly.com.