Brent Worrall came to Vernon to die.
The Chilliwack native – a former Canadian motocross champion, alcoholic, gambler, deadbeat dad with a reliance on pain medication – had had enough of life.
He arrived in Vernon in his Mazda pickup, out of booze and Tylenol 3s, somewhere around the 21st or 22nd of May 2002, having left his home, partner and kids in Richmond.
Worrall checked into the Polson Park Motel, debating whether or not to call family. He decided not to, figuring they’d find out about him soon enough.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the end of Worrall’s life.
He stopped off at the Kalamalka Hotel on Sunday, May 26, one week before his 36th birthday, to have some drinks and to lay some bets on some horse races when he met Gisela, the woman who would become his third wife.
Worrall fell hard for Gisela. He would clean up his act, reconnect with family, and get back into motocross, the sport that encompassed the early part of his life. He raced with his daughter, with his nephew.
His love of jumps in the sport earned him the nickname Airmail. It also earned him countless fractures, broken bones, abrasions and dislocations.
Airmail and Gisela drove out to Walton, Ont., – “Motocross Town” says a sign on the outskirts – in the southwestern part of the province in 2011 so Worrall could compete in the Walton Raceway Grand National Motocross, Canada’s biggest celebration of the sport.
Worrall walked the track as he had always done to get a feel for the layout and the jumps associated with it.
He got toward a new jump on the track that riders had been talking about, a daunting mound, eerily in the exact same spot Worrall had a recurring dream about becoming paralyzed.
On Aug. 18, 2011, Worrall took off from the starting gate and as he soared 140 feet through the air on what is termed the Dunlop corner, his motorbike malfunctioned. He said to himself in the air, “survive, survive, survive.”
This was all happening in front of Gisela, watching on the sidelines.
Her partner hit the ground and his bike landed on top of him.
Worrall broke his back and neck in six places, his lungs collapsed, he fractured multiple ribs as well as his clavicle and sternum.
He became a paraplegic. Gisela’s first words to him when he saw her?
“You want to live, don’t you?”
And yes, Worrall did.
He recovered, spent time at the GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver learning how to live life in a wheelchair, came home to Vernon, and two years after the accident,
Worrall got a job as a motocross sportscaster and magazine writer.
He put all of that aside in 2017 to write a book, his life story, Motocross Saved My Life From Its Darkness.
You can read Worrall’s fascinating story of how he arrived in Vernon, his love of motocross, hockey, drinking and gambling, his kids, grandkids, parents, sister and her family, and his meetings with Terry Fox, Rick Hansen and Mike Tyson, in the book’s 416 pages.
Sitting in his condo he shares with Gisela off Bella Vista Road, a windy Vernon roadway that leads to Adventure Bay on Okanagan Lake, which also plays a huge part in his recovery, Worrall found writing his story somewhat cathartic.
“Many struggle a lifetime and blot on to a miserable end, unless they are not only diagnosed, but know in their heart, that their story as painful as it has been to live through, has value and can be a beacon of hope to others,” said Worrall, who will turn 55 on June 1.
“Out of every tragedy I’ve had in my life there has been a greater miracle.”
Over the past year with the world enduring the pandemic, and mental health issues being brought to the forefront, Worrall’s story has helped others wanting to talk about their struggles.
“There is no better joy than that for me, as it reminds me that what I have done not only has value, but it enhances my own well-being at the same time, no matter where I am at in that moment,” said Worrall, diagnosed in 2017 with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), who talks to his psychologist twice a week. “Yes, I still have dark moments. The key is just recognizing them for what they are, ‘moments.’”
Worrall, sober for more than a decade, still has goals.
The man who once had visions of jumping his motorbike over Vancouver’s Science World in False Creek has been channelling his inner Evel Knievel.
The famed stuntman unsuccessfully tried to leap over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho in a specially designed rocket-powered cycle in September 1974.
Worrall has visited Knievel’s launch site near the Perrine Bridge and would love to do a base jump in his wheelchair from the bridge deck to the river below, a distance of 463 feet, with a chute-assisted landing in the water.
Worrall’s book can be ordered through his website, brentworrall.com.