Monday, January 25, 2010

Obituary: Seven-time Canadian Paralympian dies

From the Regina Leader-Post in Canada:

REGINA — Just two weeks ago, Clayton Gerein w(pictured) as among the torchbearers as the 2010 Olympic flame was carried through Fort Qu’Appelle, Sask.

Gerein — a seven-time Paralympian — would not allow a brain tumour to prevent him from participating in the Jan. 9 torch relay. He died Jan. 15 in hospital, at age 45.

“I do know that the torch relay meant a lot to him, from our conversations,’’ said Fort Qu’Appelle torch relay committee chairman Jerry Whiting, who was not aware of the extent of Gerein’s illness during his visit. “This helps you appreciate the fellow that much more.’’

“He was a stubborn guy,’’ Moose Jaw-born Paralympic athlete Lisa Franks added. “He really wanted to be a part of the torch relay. Of course, nobody was going to stop him.’’

In many ways, Gerein carried the torch for wheelchair sports — excelling as a competitor and serving as a mentor for other athletes.

“He spent his life helping others,’’ Franks said Friday from Vancouver, where she is trying out for the Canadian women’s wheelchair basketball team.

“He was a mentor through sports and as a family man, showing others how to embrace life and make the best of things. He taught people how to live life.’’

Gerein suffered a broken neck in 1982 while training racehorses. Three years later, he moved to Regina from his birthplace of North Battleford, before eventually relocating to Pilot Butte.

“It’s hard to tell what would have happened if you never had the accident,’’ Gerein told the Leader-Post in 2000. “A lot of people say it might be for the better. It’s been great. My sporting life has been wonderful. I’ve been to a lot of places and met a lot of people.’’

The first notable trip was to Los Angeles for the 1984 Paralympics, at which he competed as a swimmer. He was a wheelchair racer at the next six Paralympics, winning seven gold, four silver and three bronze medals.

Gerein — Sask Sport’s male athlete-of-the-year in 1987, 1996 and 2001 — raced at distances ranging from 800 metres to the 42.2-kilometre marathon.

He retired from competitive racing after the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing.

In addition to competing and coaching, he volunteered with the Canadian Paraplegic Association and encouraged people with disabilities to pursue their goals. That includes Franks, who became a six-time gold medallist as a Paralympian after suffering a spinal cord injury at age 14. She was in rehab when she met Gerein and, before long, they were travelling the world together.

“This makes the world seem a little emptier — not having him to go to when you need him,’’ Franks said.