Fairway therapy

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

It's not the kind of solution you'll see advertised on Golf Channel infomercials, but Walter Gretzky has a surefire way to lower his golf score.

Forget what happened on the last hole.

"I lost my short-term memory when I had the aneurysm, so that's why my golf game is so good,'' chuckled the first father of hockey, before a CNIB charity tournament yesterday at Mill Woods. "I can't remember what I shot.''

But seriously, folks, the fairways breathed a lot of life back into Gretzky after his near-fatal brain injury in 1991. He's never going to break 70, but he'll turn 68 in August and has never felt better.

"It's part of my therapy,'' he said. "I weighed 188 when I came out of the hospital. I'd been lying in a bed for 10 months, I couldn't walk. Part of my therapy was golf, for the walking, the exercise and the co-ordination. Now I go all the time, about three times a week - I just love it. I don't care what my score is because I know what it's like not to be able to walk.''

It's Gretzky's first visit to Edmonton since last year, during the filming of a soon-to-be released movie about his ordeal, Waking up Wally. He's seen a sneak preview and likes how they told his story.

"They did a great job of it, they truly did.''

It's a story that all but writes itself.

The father of the most celebrated hockey player in the world, struck down in the prime of his life, unable to speak, walk, recognize his family or remember any of his son's historic achievements.

SPOILED HER PARTY

"It was Oct 13, 1991, one day before my wife's birthday. She says I spoiled her party,'' grinned Walter, who's never far from a hearty laugh. "I was in the hospital for 10 months. When I left, they sent a therapist with me. He would wake me up to shower me, he would dress me, he taught me how to brush my teeth again, how to shave.

"I had to re-learn life. I didn't know who my family was. Nothing. That young man stayed with me for two and a half years, reintroduced me back into society... and here I am.''

He still keeps in touch with the therapist, Ian Kohler, even has him over for most of the holidays.

"He married our daughter, Kim, and they have three children. The oldest one is nine.''

The CNIB has also been a part of Walter's life - through the Wayne and Walter Gretzky Scholarship awards for visually impaired students - since 99 was an Oiler. Wally has a good story about that one, too.

INCREDIBLE CONVERSATION

"The season had just finished in Edmonton and Wayne was coming home to Brantford. He was only 19 years old, waiting at the Toronto airport for a ride.

"He saw two visually impaired students who were also waiting for a ride and they ended up having an incredible conversation.

"He comes home, it's 12:30 at night at the kitchen table and I have to go to work the next morning. I want to go to bed. But Wayne is so impressed with these young men that he's planning a tennis tournament to help raise money for the CNIB.

"Here we are, 25 years and over $3 million later, and we're still with them. That's how it all started. He came home that night and decided then and there.''

For someone who turned his love of a game into a king's riches and global adulation, Wayne Gretzky never let his head get caught in the clouds. Apparently, Wally wasn't just giving hockey lessons out on that backyard rink.

"My sister was mentally challenged, she was like a three or four-year-old child, and Wayne grew up around her,'' said Walter. "We would always remind him that there are people in this world less fortunate than you are. We told him his aunt is lucky, she has us, but there are people who have nobody.

"Athletes today, they forget about things like that. Wayne never forgot. Once you have that in you, it never leaves you.''


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