Evanshen saga chronicled

Terry Evanshen doesn't remember the automobile accident that ended what he calls his first life. But he knows that it happened because he's been told -- many times.

Nor does he recall his glory years as a star wide receiver in the Canadian Football League.

But he can tell you he fumbled the ball only three times in his entire career, because he's been told -- over and over.

For Evanshen, each day is like his first.

That's because in July 1988, his life was forever altered when the Jeep he was driving was broadsided by a van running a red light.

The impact sent him smashing through the Jeep's back window, leaving him in a coma, with severe brain injuries and hovering near death.

When Evanshen emerged into consciousness two weeks later, he was a man without a past.

Every vestige of memory from the first 44 years of his life had been wiped clean.

His wife and three daughters were strangers. He didn't even know his own name.

In The Man Who Lost Himself(McClelland and Stewart), author June Callwood describes Evanshen's 12-year struggle to rebuild his sense of self and a meaningful life, with the unending patience and encouragement of his family.

Through the eyes of his wife Lorraine, daughters Tracy, Tara and Jennifer, and other family members and friends, Callwood describes the "new Terry" -- a man who had to relearn the life skills he'd forgotten, from speaking and writing to how to laugh and how to love.

Evanshen was also a man given to irrational outbursts of anger, a byproduct not only of frustration at his ineptitude for the simplest of tasks, but a common side-effect of the injuries that shattered his brain.

Those injuries, says Callwood in the book, "had knocked him back to the emotional level of a raging two-year-old."

"It was really bad, I was a really ugly person," says Evanshen during a book tour with Callwood.

He is torn by the knowledge that he couldn't be a father to his daughters as they were growing up at their farm northeast of Toronto. "I was not paying any attention to what they were doing, saying: `School, what is school?' "

Unable to sleep more than a few hours at a time, he would wake up his wife or daughters to go for walks in the middle of the night.

He couldn't understand their reluctance.

"I can't sleep, so what do you have to sleep for?" he would ask.

And because the brain damage had also robbed him of the ability to retain new memories, he would repeat the same behaviours over and over.

Only by constant repetition is he able to know what is appropriate.

He says it took him almost a year to learn how to show affection.

"What's a kiss? What's a hug anyway. What's a hug for? Why do we hug," he says he would ask.

Surprisingly, Evanshen retained the ability to drive a car.

But the man with the golden hands during 14 seasons as a wide receiver with Montreal, Calgary, Hamilton and Toronto, a CFL Hall of Famer and twice a Schenley award winner, had no recollection of how to catch a football.

The first time his eldest daughter Tracy tried to play with him after the accident, her pass hit him in the head as his arms hung unmoving at his sides.

Today, Evanshen has learned to play football again -- and golf -- and he is earning a living as an inspirational speaker, telling his story to students and business groups across Canada.

Memorizing his speech is impossible, so he uses cards as prompts while on stage.

"If I do my talk 10,000 times, it's almost like the first time, it's brand new to me," he says.

With no memory of the past and a severely degraded short-term memory, it's impossible for Evanshen to make plans for the future, a concept his brain can't conceive of. It is no cliche when he says he lives one day at a time.

"Every day is a new day and from the moment I wake up, at four o'clock or five o'clock, I'm planning on being a good person that day and to carry on proper responsibilities and to develop myself.

"I just want to do everything to the best of my ability."

His goal is to be the best husband, father and friend that he can be.

"They have done so much for me," he says of his family. "I complain about nothing and I just want to be there for them."

And now, more than ever perhaps, he is needed

. For in an ironic and what seems a cruel twist of fate, his youngest daughter Jennifer, 21, is battling inoperable brain cancer.

His salvation is his public speaking.

It has given Evanshen, a fit, deceptively young-looking 56, something he thought he'd never have again -- a purpose in life.

"It was such a void for such a long, long time. And of course there was the inner anger: What am I going to do with my life? What life? It's all crap.

"But when I went to my first high school students leaders conference, there was an automatic response. I thought, `Oh my God, they're listening and I touched them.' "

Callwood says that despite his memory loss, Evanshen has somehow retained his character -- the guts and determination that made him a gridiron great from 1965 to 1978.

"He is an inspiration," she says, comparing him to Terry Fox.

"It's somebody getting a really awful blow -- and I don't know anybody who hasn't had one -- and you either crumble or go on and do what you can.

"That's really the message Terry conveys," Callwood says. "It's a very powerful message for people who have suffered loss and humiliation, grief of all kinds: Keep going, don't give up."

By Sheryl Ubelacker