Alex Brink has yet to start his first CFL game or record any meaningful stats, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t registered a victory.
Actually, it’s a victory the backup quarterback shares with all his Blue Bomber teammates, one that means far more than anything recorded in the league standings.
Brink and the Bombers have given 20-year-old Winnipegger David Leitch a reason to live, something Leitch didn’t think he had two years ago.
“I tried to commit suicide,” Leitch, watching Bomber practice from his wheelchair, said Wednesday. “I spent three years in my house. I didn’t really leave. Basically broke any contact I had with anybody, and just sort of lived in self misery. And then I guess I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
Leitch’s life story makes Job’s look like a stroll down Easy Street.
Born with spina bifida, the guy had more operations than birthdays by the time he was six. At least two of his surgeries saved his life.
But when you don’t know who your father is, when your mother doesn’t want you because of your disability, when your grandmother takes you, only to “beat the crap” out of you, well, it can seem pretty hopeless.
“It’s been a rough life,” Leitch said, vying for understatement of the year.
So he tried to end it, using a knife, in 2008. His aunt saved him.
Since then, it’s been his love for a lousy football team, a team that can’t seem to make the playoffs, but has made a huge difference in his life.
“It saved me, basically,” Leitch said. “It’s all I’ve got.”
From the time he discovered the Bombers during training camp a year ago, Leitch hasn’t missed a practice, let alone a game.
Every day of practice, he’ll get on the bus from his West Kildonan home and make the 25-minute trip to the stadium. If the Bombers are at Rod’s Field in St. James, he’ll just wheel the extra 15 minutes, over curbs and across bumpy fields, himself.
“You have to find stuff to do,” Leitch said. “You can’t sit at home all the time.”
When he’s not at the stadium, you might find Leitch out on the town with Brink, taking in a movie, grabbing a bite to eat or watching and talking sports.
“And I never have to pay,” Leitch said, the twinkle that’s always in his eye just a little more pronounced.
Brink may pick up the tab, but it’s Leitch and his positive attitude that often pick up the rookie CFLer.
“When you see somebody like that, who has such a love for us as a team and puts that much into it, it just warms your heart,” the former Washington State star said. “To see him with a smile on his face when, by all rights, he doesn’t have to, that makes me feel good to be around a person like that. You realize what’s really important in life.
“He’s always happy. He’s always got something positive to say.”
These days, Leitch’s attitude is being tested, yet again.
His aunt is in serious condition after major surgery, leaving him to fend for himself.
Again, Brink has been there for him, bringing him groceries or just giving him someone to lean on.
“You do what you can,” Brink said. “Some people may look at it like, ‘Oh, he’s just a fan.’ But to me and a lot of guys out here, he’s a friend. He genuinely cares, not just how we play on the field, but how we are as people.”
Most Bombers feel a kinship with Leitch, not unlike what they feel with teammates.
“David is a Bomber,” receiver Terrence Edwards said. “He’s a part of the team.”
The hardest-working part, too.
“There’s days where you’re, like, ‘Why?’ ” Leitch acknowledged. “But when you have friends, like Alex, it keeps you going.”
Sounds like it works both ways.
Contact Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org or 632-2788.