July 19, 2009. It was a clear Sunday morning and Robert Wein, a self proclaimed tech nerd and analyst for CSE, was out for a regular bike ride with his partner Cathy Anderson and 3 other friends, training for a marathon race. As they rode along March road in Kanata, a van struck the 5 riders and then left the scene. In October 2011, a jury convicted the driver on 10 charges of dangerous driving causing bodily harm and leaving the scene of an accident. He received a two-year sentence, and his license was suspended for 5 years.
Wein was the most seriously injured of the group, who became known as the Kanata 5. Doctors gave him a 50% chance of survival and told him he would never walk or cycle again. As a result of the crash, Robert became medically-retired from his job and was unable to continue the fitness program that he loved. He felt useless. In 2011, he decided not to feel that way and to focus on what he could do. Out of that attitude, the Brain Injury Awareness Walk was born. The walk is an annual fundraiser for Pathways to Independence, a community based, Not-For-Profit agency providing assisted community living services and supports to people with an acquired brain injury (ABI). Wein’s goal is to create awareness of ABIs, more commonly known as concussions, and encourage healing at people’s own space. 2018 marked the seventh year for the walk. (See story on CTV Ottawa about this year’s walk.)
As a result of the brain injury, Robert does have some challenges with speech. The ideas come, but getting the words out can be challenging and takes considerable focus for him to be able to get his ideas out. That does not stop Robert from raising awareness about ABI, through the annual walk and a foundation he started called the Never Stop Foundation. The goal of the Foundation is to provide public awareness and education about ABI. Robert does a monthly talk to high school students through PARTY, hosted by the Ottawa Hospital. PARTY is a program that works to prevent alcohol and risk-related trauma in youth. Robert shares his story, promoting the importance of wearing a helmet and cycling safety, as well as the importance of not drinking and driving. While the driver claims that he did not drink at the party he was at all night prior to the accident, the extent of the damage and the fact he assumed his shattered windshield was from a pole he hit would clearly suggest he was not in a condition to be driving, be it alcohol or fatigue, as he claims. Impressively, Robert does not hold ill will towards the driver, as he does accept he made a mistake. However, he does prefer to call it a crash instead of an accident, as in his mind, it was not an accident. The driver made a conscious decision to get behind the wheel of his car that morning, and therefore, Robert reminds his audiences to make wise choices.
Another topic Robert likes to speak about is the fact that ABI can be an invisible disability. Robert jokes that he actually considers himself lucky, as the fact he has a physical disability in addition to the brain injury (Robert walks with the assistance of a walker), people are more accepting to offer help or be understanding if he speaks slower or is slower doing something, whereas his friends who have an ABI with no physical symptoms are not given that same consideration.
As I sat down to start my conversation with Robert, he shared an interesting philosophy:
“When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”
And fortunately for those with ABIs, Robert’s lemonade is raising awareness and visibility to an often invisible challenge that affects approximately 1.5 million Canadians…one step at a time.