Catching Up With...Brent 'Airmail' Worrall
Interview by Billy Rainford
Catching Up With...Brent 'Airmail' Worrall
Brent ‘Airmail’ Worrall suffered a devastating injury at the Walton TransCan last August and has been left without feeling in the lower part of his body. Through perseverance, hard work, close friends and family, and an amazing attitude, he manages to stay positive about his future and looks forward to whatever comes next for him. I had a chance to chat with Brent and talk about all of it.
DMX: Hello, Brent. How are things?
Brent Worrall: Ah, pretty good. Life’s a little bit different. I’m a little lonely, being away from the family, but it’s like committing to go to work out of town—we all have to do it sometimes, but it’s for the better, in the long run.
So, most of us are following along with you on your Facebook page and on MX Forum, but how is everything going now that you have begun your rehab at GF Strong in Vancouver?
I must say, the first couple weeks were a bit of a blur because life is pretty regimented and I’ve got anywhere from six to ten individuals dealing with my immediate care—physiotherapy, occupational therapy, social work (I’m still dealing with the medical bills from Ontario that haven’t been paid). I went public with my story in a couple newspapers in Western Canada and, believe it or not, a couple of MLAs have contacted me and expressed interest in helping. I contacted a lawyer, as well, and, based on everything everybody sees, it seems the bills should have been paid. BC Medical should have covered the expenses that I’ve been put on the hook for to the tune of about $36 000.
It’s frustrating because I’m dealing with my health and my emotional well-being and I want to be able to put that type of thing behind me so I can move forward, but as long as that’s hanging it just wears on me a little bit. We bought a two-bedroom condo this summer and there are some stairs involved so I’m going to have to look into getting into a level-entry place. I’m sure it’ll take care of itself.
Well, fortunately, you bought in BC so perhaps you just made $100 000 on your place?!
(Laughs) Ya, well, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. For me, this year it was ‘the perfect storm’—it was good, we bought our first home together, and I committed to the three big races (Kamloops nationals, the western Canadian championships, and the Walton TransCan). I went to Walton with visions of doing well. I was trying to avenge that top-ten finish from two years ago which was my first year back racing.
I was a little anxious. I got a bad start and I was about 20th out of about 37 guys on the first lap and I passed about 15 and I hit the big step-down and I had just shifted into 5th gear. I looked around and everything looked good. I’m not sure exactly what happened; I’ve got conflicting reports. Parker Allison tells me he heard a ‘panic rev,’ and Pat O’Connor said my motor died. I don’t know. All I know is I could see front fender and it was coming quick. I just told myself to hang on and survive, survive. I flew a long way and landed hard. The old body doesn’t bounce the way it used to. I just feel really blessed and fortunate to be alive!
They told us in London that I was probably going to be a quadriplegic and not have the use of my arms, things like that, and who knows what else. The fact that I came through, I’m still alive, and still have that fighting spirit the sport of motocross has given me, I’m just going to move forward. I look forward to being involved in the sport more than I ever was in the sense of being proactive for injured riders. The outpouring of support I’ve had in the last five months has just been so overwhelming to the point where I feel inadequate and I don’t feel like I deserve it. At the same time, I must say, it keeps me fighting every day and puts a smile on my face.
I had people come up to me at the Chilliwack who sent the proceeds of their ride to help benefit our cause. Ryan Lockhart from International Motorsports handed me a $200 gift certificate for the store, the Mabberleys gave me a cheque…it was unbelievable! People went and paid to ride and they knew that the money was going to a cause and, over and above that, they just stepped up and it’s just overwhelming.
Hey, let’s back up for a minute. I have a bone to pick with you! When you looked up and saw my face at Walton you said the look on my face told you how bad the injury was. I was doing everything I could to hide it!
You were very stoic-looking. I know you wear that look well, at times, but the look I saw on your face and, more importantly, the band of energy I felt from just making human eye-contact with you and others, I really felt safeguarded and protected because behind you people was an aura of darkness. I didn’t want to go to the darkness. I wanted to stay connected to the positive aura and energy that I felt from the people.
I know you’ve mentioned it before, and I saw it first-hand, but I thought Carol, the medic, acted like Superwoman! She was impressive.
Ya, and just this weekend I was combing around on my computer and I saw an image she was tagged in and I just knew that somehow she was involved. I phoned my wife (Gisela) and she said that she was the crazy woman who did the incredible 300-yard dash to get to me first. I connected with her on Facebook and she said she’s always wondered how I was doing. She did say that when she got to me I was semi-conscious. She asked me if I could move my feet and I said no. She asked if I could move my legs and I said no. She knew what she was dealing with but at the same time she detected that I was losing my airway. She managed to establish my airway and get me breathing. And then I lost consciousness when my lungs collapsed and the medics came with the tubes and inflated my lungs and everything. I was laying on the ground telling myself to survive and she was there telling herself that she could do this. She kept saying that to herself. I really believe there was a connection between her and me and it helped to save my life.
You can say what you want about the depth of the ruts in the track and the starting gate is uneven and too much water in one corner, but overall, first and foremost, my hat is off to the Lee family. I’ve had people approach me and tell me to look into the amount of insurance the track has and that there should be some kind of liability and that I should be covered and I just said, absolutely not. I said, I’m a motocrosser and I believe that what happened to me was a freak thing and the chances of it happening to somebody else are very slim and there is no way that I would pursue anything like that against an outfit like Walton or the Lee family. It’s just not in the best interest of the sport. It’s just not in my M.O., it’s not in me. I believe in the laws of kharma and cause and effect. The Lee family was great with the way we were treated.
I know you’ve been able to get out a few times and go to places like the Vancouver Motorcycle Show and the Chilliwack arenacross races. Tell us how that’s been.
It’s been really good. I can’t say enough about my friends. Being born and raised in Chilliwack, and having friends in the moto community, it seems like every other day I have someone text me and want to come have dinner with me at the facility or get out across the road. Sheldon from the forum wasn’t able to pick me up to take me to the Chilliwack arenacross so another guy I know who had a medical appointment around here came to give me a ride. I’ve been used to getting into our street-level Jetta but he has a 4X4 Dodge pick-up that there is no way I could have gotten up into and he just reached in, head down, grabbed me, and flopped me into the seat and off we went to Chilliwack.
So, looking forward, with injured riders like David Bailey completing the Hawaii Ironman, are you even to the point where you’re thinking about things like that in the future?
No, but I don’t think I’m going to be that far away because I’m just into a new demo chair and I want my freedom and my independence. I have a competitive spirit and I want to do something. The first thing I’m going to do as early as June is the Ride to Conquer Cancer. My mother died of brain cancer quite young and my father has cancer. It’s a 300km ride from Vancouver to Seattle done in two days. I want to get into a hand-pedalled chair and do that. It’s something that I can challenge myself to do and it’s for a good cause. I’ll feel accomplished once I’ve done that. As far as Ironman stuff goes, who knows. There are all kinds of wheelchair sports that I’ve been exposed to. I’m a free-wheeler. When I rode my motocross bike, for training, I rode unicycles. I just love getting out in the Okanogan countryside on a hot day and getting my cardiovascular system pumping the way it’s supposed to be pumped. It keeps us young and healthy.
Speaking of David Bailey, who’s your all-time moto hero?
Love him or hate him, my moto hero is James Stewart. I just think he pushes it to the next level. His talent is just phenomenal. It’s been tough for him. He overcame that possible career-ending wrist injury. He came back and landed the spot on the JGR team. He had to work a little bit harder than I think he thought he needed to and they overcame all that adversity of losing that moto-family member last week. It was nice to see James put the pedal to the metal and get the job done.
What’s your favourite moto memory?
Obviously, the World Mini Grand Prix in 1981. I finished 10th in the Yamaha Race of Champions. It was a three-moto format. The first moto I finished 7th and a guy I used to bang bars with here in the northwest, Eric Hall, finished 6th in that moto. The last two motos my bars came down to my knees and it definitely affected my placing. You rode a different bike each moto because they had 20 stock YZ 80s and you drew a number for the bike so nobody rode the same bike in each moto. It’s a toss-up between that and winning the Canadian nationals in 1980 on a minicycle. I got to race with a lot of guys that you probably know from southwestern Ontario like Frank Watts and Glen Caley. I came out from the west and won it in Quebec.
My other memory is my last race for 26 years was the first BC Place supercross in 1983. I crashed in the qualifier and they only took one rider from the LCQ and I holeshot and won that and ended up 13th in the main. I got $875 back in 1983 and that was pretty good for those days.
You mentioned leaving the sport for 26 years. Can you tell us a little about that period of your life?
I guess you could say I got into a bad groove. Just before that supercross, I had recovered from my fifth broken ankle. It kept breaking just a little higher up and my doctor wasn’t too thrilled with me. I just figured I’d best take some time off. I started working a really good-paying job and having beers with the guys became a regular thing. Before I knew it, I was drinking daily and I went to a place I hope no human being has to go. I was addicted to alcohol in a sense that when I got up in the morning if I didn’t have it soon or didn’t know it was coming I was in trouble. A lot of things happened to my body physically. My normal body-weight now is between 145 and 150 and when I packed it in I was pretty much 200 pounds of quivering diarrhea! My liver was just about done and I was confronted with the fact of taking another drink or putting the plug in the jug and surviving. I put the plug in the jug and I slowly got back into the stream of life and I had a really good woman up in the Okanogan. I started doing a lot of things that I enjoyed in the past like riding unicycles again and I became pretty much a physical fitness junkie.
In 2008, my wife, my girls, and I ended up in Edmonton to go to the West Edmonton Mall and I saw that there was a motocross national in town so I figured we should check that out. Seeing those guys on the track just got my blood going and I thought to myself, “You know what, Brent? You might be 42-years old but you could probably still do that.” I got a YZ250 two-stroke—because that’s all I’d ever known was a two-stroke—and got back on that and the rest is history. It got back in my blood and it was pretty humbling because the tracks have changed and the bikes have changed. I broke my collarbone, my heel, and my arm in the first couple years, but I was determined to make it back to a race.
My first race was the first CMRC race back in Quesnel in 2009 Pus 40 class. I holeshotted and won both motos. On day two, they had the girls running at the same time as me and my daughter was riding a 125 and she crashed in the rhythm section. I didn’t think too much of it. I did another lap and Rob Crawford waved me over and I knew that she was in trouble. She was unconscious for about eight minutes. My day was done because we had to go to the hospital to get her checked out.
It was back in my blood after getting out on the track and not racing after 26 years, getting the holeshot, and winning a moto in the old guy class. I figured, hey, this is where I belong. Then I pursued it with the passion I had when I was 18-years old. Nothing replaces the spirit of motocross; once it’s in your blood, I think you’re hooked for life.
I’ve had so many visitors here--people that I haven’t heard from in years. They heard about my crash and hooked up with my recovery site and have sent me messages or come to see me. This injury is a terrible thing, and I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone, but, believe it or not, some doors have closed but I truly believe in my heart of hearts that doors have started to open that wouldn’t have opened had this not happened.
I don’t know what the steps are to get there, but you should be some sort of motivational speaker or something.
It’s very interesting you say that because a friend of mine—one of those people that I mentioned who came out of the woodwork that I went to school with but hadn’t heard from in 25-26 years—said she lives in Chase and was going to come to see me. She came back-and-forth from Chase to the Vernon hospital and one day she said that she was going to bring me a present. She said she had to pick it up at the Kelowna Airport, so I knew something was up. Turns out, she brought a motivational speaker named Bob Molly who was a professional wrestler. He broke his back three months prior to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He was determined to overcome his adversity and he competed and got a silver medal. He was also the captain of the Winnipeg Bluebombers where he captained them to one Grey Cup, for sure, maybe two. He was in town speaking to a financial group so she wanted him to come up to the hospital to see me. I started talking to him and it turns out he knows one motocross rider in Canada who just happened to be Ross Pederson. We had a good chat and he was very inspired by my story. That night when he spoke to the folks at the Inn, he told my story and put a link to my recovery site in the night’s hand-out. I had people actually make financial contributions to my recovery site based on what Bob told them.
Hey, you know what else? I’d read a book if you wrote it.
Ya, I’ve given that some thought, too. My life experience is pretty unique, when you think about it. I know we’re all terminally unique in our own way, but I just feel that what I’ve been through would offer something to somebody motivationally. One, it’s never too late, and don’t ever give up on your dream, whatever it is. Right now, in all honesty, I don’t know what my dream is. I visualize going home and embracing my family and living a normal happy life, but, for me, normal is only used when I turn the drier on. [And there you have it….the title of his upcoming book!] What my new normal is, I have no idea, but I’m looking forward to it.
I always enjoy reading your writings on MX Forum or Facebook. It’s always well written, nicely thought out, and there is always a positive message.
Ya, thanks, and that’s what I try to do. I want it to carry a bit of a message. I mean, if somebody can benefit from my suffering, then it’s worthwhile. I see all the young riders and that’s where I was at when I was young. That was my headspace—what I valued in life. In hindsight, it’s easy for all of us to say at this age, but we have a lot to offer young riders—even if it’s just the way we carry ourselves. I must say that I’m impressed with Sam Nichols. His dad is Mike Nichols and he’s partners with Marcel Ruff in Goldentyre Canada. They’ve been over here from England about four years now. Sam is a super rider and he’s had a lot of injury problems. He had shoulder surgery last summer and I’m looking for good things out of him. When I was in the Vernon Hospital, the family came up that day and Sam asked me if I’d mind if he wore my number next year in your honour. I said that I’d be honoured ad for him to go out there and do it proud. I told him it was going to be his new lucky number. He’s going to be the new #114 on the Intermediate bike and I’m looking forward to good things from him at the first national at either Nanaimo or Kamloops.
Ok, well thanks a ton for talking to us today. Keep in touch and just keep writing.
Oh, you know what one of my other short term goals, besides the Ride to Conquer Cancer, is that I am planning to be at the Walton TransCan because I want to look everybody in the eye, shake their hand, and make peace with the holy grounds. It was basically the first chapter in my new life. I’ve been Youtubing and watching any footage I can just to get a look at that jump to try and figure out what happened. I think I was just going way too fast.
I really appreciate all the stuff you guys have done for me—Rick at MX Forum, Kyle Carruthers at DMX, and all my sponsors. I just can’t say enough about how, after five months, they’re still there supporting me and checking in on me. That says a lot.