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Stroke survivor will take Ottawa’s Lumberjack Challenge in stride

First an accident and then a stroke meant Tim Kerr now walks instead of running. This weekend he'll walk Ottawa's Lumberjack Challenge–59.2K over two days–in support of the Elisabeth Bruyère Hospital

Tim Kerr of Ottawa has had his share of challenges. In 2009, the 43-year-old Canadian naval officer, who had been a serious 10K runner, was in a military training accident in which his right hip was crushed. Three years later, he was commanding a Canadian navy destroyer in the Pacific Ocean when he suffered a major stroke and brain hemorrhage, leaving him paralyzed on his left side. Thanks largely to the rehabilitation experts at Ottawa’s Elisabeth Bruyère Hospital, Kerr is about 95 per cent back to normal, and getting ready to tackle Ottawa’s Lumberjack Challenge this weekend (this one a voluntary challenge while fundraising for the Bruyère.

Tim Kerr finishing the 2017 Ottawa half-marathon

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Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend’s Lumberjack Challenge consists of the 2K, the 5K, the 10K and the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon–59.2K over two days. Thanks to his hip injury, Kerr can no longer run, but he can walk just fine, and he will be walking the distances and collecting pledges for the Bruyère. His goal is to raise $5,000, and he’s already at almost $4,000.

After the stroke at sea, Kerr’s crew acted quickly (and at considerable risk) to get him to a hospital in San Diego, where he spent more than a week being tested, assessed and stabilized before being transferred to the Ottawa Civic Hospital. Kerr spent about a week before there, and then started stroke rehabilitation at the Bruyère, where he lived for three months.



Kerr at the Bruyère Hospital, where he spent three months in stroke rehabilitation in 2012

When Kerr arrived at Bruyère, his left side was paralyzed, and he couldn’t sit up straight without help. He recalls being wheeled up to the dinner table along with other patients in various states of disability on his first night, and feeling extremely demoralized and fearful about his recovery. “I’m a pretty positive person, but it was a discouraging time,” says Kerr. “I felt very alone and uncertain of the future.”

Kerr says he didn’t make much progress in the first month, which didn’t help. But he remembers his daughter’s eighth birthday, which the family celebrated with him at the Bruyère, as being a turning point in his rehabilitation. “I think it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t just recovering for myself—I realized the importance of recovering for my family so I could go back to being a husband and father and breadwinner. I wanted to be a force in their lives. After that I made very quick progress. I was in there for two more months, but I made steady progress after that, and I ended up recovering very well indeed.”

Kerr with his kids, James and Sophie, at the Bruyère in 2012

Kerr took up the Scotiabank Charity Challenge for Bruyère two years ago, but this year’s Lumberjack is his most ambitious yet. Is his wife worried about his walking 59.2K in two days? “Yes,” Kerr laughs. “With my previous hip injury and then stroke, my wife is concerned about my physical health. But she’s very supportive.”

Tim Kerr’s x-ray after surgery to repair his hip in 2009

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“People say I am lucky to have survived,” Kerr writes on his fundraising page. “They say I am lucky to have recovered so well. If you met me today, you would never know I had suffered a massive stroke. Let me assure you, luck had nothing to do with it. It wasn’t luck that I survived a stroke so far from the nearest shore and critical care unit. It was the skill and training of my crew. It wasn’t luck that enabled me to recover and return to my family and my life, it was the skill and motivation of the professionals at Bruyère.”

Kerr on board HMCS Algonquin before his stroke in 2012

Click here to make a donation to the Bruyère Hospital as part of Tim Kerr’s fundraising effort.