After riding through financial freeze, Edmonton para-bobsledder takes on World Cup
'I can't thank my supporters enough for what they're trying to do for me'
After financial challenges threatened to derail his gold medal dream, para-bobsledder Brian McPherson is ready to make a comeback.
The Edmonton man — considered a pioneer of the fledgling sport — will compete in the World Cup circuit across Europe this winter, thanks to renewed financial support from his fans.
McPherson lost the use of his legs after crushing his spine in an ATV accident in 1995. He was recruited to take part in a training camp more than 10 years ago to see if the sport was feasible for people with disabilities.
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He not only proved that the sport was possible for people living paralysis, he found his passion.
When McPherson races down the track at 120 km per hour, he feels powerful.
"It means everything. I would give up both arms [to compete] if it wasn't for the fact that I need those. I mean, I'm already down two limbs," McPherson said with a smile.
My goal is to keep going with this sport and make it to the Paralympics. I would be a fool not to. I've worked really hard.- Brian McPherson, para-bobsledder
"But I would do whatever I could. I've been an athlete most of my life and this sport has been absolutely amazing."
Although the Edmontonian excelled at sledge hockey and wheelchair basketball, he gave up both to train full time in para-bobsleigh. He went on to represent Team Canada, and travelled to Germany and Utah to compete.
When para-bobsleigh was added to the 2018 Paralympics roster in Korea, he dreamed of earning a place on the podium.
"There's a handful of us that were a part of this from when it started, from when they were just seeing if it could be a sport, and now it's part of the Paralympics," McPherson said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.
"My goal is to keep going with this sport and make it to the Paralympics. I would be a fool not to. I've worked really hard."
Economic downturn put the brakes on competition
But just as McPherson was beginning to master the curves of the track, the bottom fell out — the economic downturn in Alberta meant his sponsors could no longer afford to support him.
Without reliable funding, competition was impossible. Then he got injured. Despite finishing his first season ranked fifth in the world, he was forced to suspend competition for the year.
"It was terrible. We had done some funding and we were able to get me to Utah for the first two World Cup races and I won the gold in race one," he said.
"Coming home and realizing that I really had a shot to be one of the top pilots in the world, it really started to devastate me, thinking that I wasn't going to make it to Europe."
'It's been a ride. It's been one hell of a life'
The cost of international competitions is high. A single season can be more than $20,000.
Unwilling to quit, McPherson began doing his own fundraising last year and was able to raise nearly enough to cover his expenses for the 2017 World Cup.
Between personal donations and a new sponsor, he's been able to pay for hotel accommodations, track fees and plane tickets.
On Jan. 14th, he will race for Team Canada in Lillehammer, Norway before continuing on the circuit to Oberhof, Germany and finally St.Moritz, Switzerland for the championship races.
Although he leaves this week, he's still approximately $2,000 short on funds, and will be doing everything he can to cut down on costs.
For McPherson, it's a small price to pay.
After the accident that left McPherson paralyzed, he fell into a deep depression. He lost everything close to him, he said, including friends, family and even a place to sleep.
It wasn't until he rediscovered sport that he was able to find peace with his injury.
"I spent two years living my life in a very, dark, dark place. But I've rebuilt my life and here I am a foreman for a wonderful company ... and an athlete," he said.
"It's been a ride. It's been one hell of a life and I can't thank my supporters enough for what they're trying to do for me."