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Don't count Hitman out!

By RICK BELL -- Calgary Sun

Bret Hart sits outside his house and speaks to the Sun of the stroke he suffered just six short weeks ago.

"I just want to get back and walk up the steps at the first Hitmen home game, those steep steps. I would love to go to that opening game, just because I always do," says the original Hitman of worldwide wrestling acclaim.

"I'm getting a lot of my movement back. But I'm worried about my face. I look in the mirror and I don't like what I see. I believe I'm going to totally recover and I don't want people to remember me like I am now, with this glassy stare or this droopy palsy look," says Bret, still the fighter, still paralyzed on the left side of his face.

"I'm not happy with how I am. I'm determined to rebuild myself. This is just an inconvenience. A sad memory that will be gone. I just want to come back and be the guy people remembered a few months ago."

Less than a few months ago, in late June, Bret's life is very different, riding his bicycle. Of late, he'd seen his share of sorrow but he's feeling on top of the world.

But Bret's bike hits a pothole. He loses control, falls off his bicycle sideways, hits his helmetless head, lands on his back.

As soon as Bret hits the ground he loses the feeling on his left side and stares up at the sky, seeing cone-shaped silver dots before his eyes, the same dots he sees when he sustains a career-ending concussion, more than two years ago.

Bret gets up, tries to swing his paralyzed left leg over the bike seat and falls again. He phones wife Julie who comes to his aid. He tries to walk out, falls over and 911 is called.

Bret keeps thinking it's a pinched nerve. Hours later, the doctor uses the S-word. Stroke.

But Bret can wiggle the tips of his toes and move his fingers a little. Things can't be that bad. A week later, Bret knows they are.

He looks at a hand he can't turn over, an arm he can't lift, a leg he can hardly move.

"It was so discouraging sometimes. I had to step back. I couldn't talk to anybody about it. It became a meltdown. It's a humbling experience to be so pathetic you have to get the nurse to take you to the bathroom. It's easy to get down."

Bret does not dwell on the first days and weeks. On a scale of one to 10, he says he's now at a 3.5 and getting better.

Bret talks about "his old self" and "those little tiny breakthroughs." He lifts his left arm, though he still can't hold a book in the uplifted arm for long because he doesn't have the strength. Bret can now open and close his hand. He uses the thumb of his left hand to touch all the fingers on that hand.

He can stand. He can walk and once a week takes his pet pug Coombs out. In three weeks, Bret hopes to walk normally. He delights in the fact his physio people yesterday tell him he'll ride his bike and work out one day.

The former wrestling superstar recalls how it was so hard to even pick up little dice and put them in a dish.

"It's still a bit hard," says the man who once picked up men and threw them around the ring.

"My vision in the left eye is still bad, so I can't drive. My voice is weak and I have trouble talking for any length of time or swallowing. I'll be happy when I can smile and wink. I can't smile and wink now. It really cuts down on my flirting."

Bret also vows to wear a bike helmet. "I'll get the biggest one I can. I'll look like Gazoo in the Flintstones."

Bret returns again and again to his time in the hospital. The wonderful nurses at the Foothills, the people in the stroke ward who are worse off than him and cause Bret to count his blessings.

He calls them the real fighters and the real heroes.

There is a lady named Miriam, who is always in high spirits despite her stroke, the 70-year-old guy who tells Bret the hospital works miracles, the people who visit their loved ones and stop by to encourage Bret.

There is his dad Stu. The first visit Bret realizes his dad hates seeing him in a wheelchair. The next visit Bret gets up and grips his dad's hand.

There's the nurse who tells Bret to wait to discover why the stroke happened to him. There's Walter Gretzky's call, visits from hockey's Tie Domi and wrestling's Roddy Piper, Bret's wife and kids who've been terrific, the card from Calgarians.

"Say thank you to everyone. The card is really nice. I wish I could've been there," says Bret of the card-signing session at Chinook Centre on Wednesday.

"But have faith in me.

"I'll be back."

Bret then shakes hands, gets up and walks slowly to his house.

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