Volume 95, Issue 50

Thursday, November 29, 2001
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Every day is a great one for Walter Gretzky

Canada's other cup

Sprinting to track supremacy

Peaks and valleys

Every day is a great one for Walter Gretzky

By Ryan Dixon
Gazette Staff

His life has been marked by hockey and humility, big stars and small towns, but more than anything else, Walter Gretzky's life is a lesson in second chances.

Ten years ago, Gretzky suffered a severe brain aneurysm that nearly killed him. Now, he is healthy, happy and anxious to tell his story to anybody who will listen.

"I wasn't supposed to live through the night and here I am 10 years later and I'm fine." he said. "I don't have much of a memory, but I'm fine."

Not surprisingly, the man who already had a great number of reasons to feel he was living a charmed life before he beat the medical odds, said now he has even more.

"Every second of every day and everything I do is special now. Things we take for granted I don't – I wasn't supposed to live," he said.

Curtis Lantinga
Known to hockey fans as the father of Wayne Gretzky, Canada's favourite hockey son, Walter has written a book entitled Walter Gretzky on Family, Hockey and Healing, which chronicles his own life story.

Walter said he wrote the book with one sole purpose in mind.

"The people from [The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada] convinced me that it would benefit a lot of people. Because of the name, people would read it and learn the signs and symptoms of stroke," he said.

For a man who lost the majority of his memory, writing a book about his life was an opportunity to colour in some lines. "You get to see people you haven't seen for a long, long time," Walter said.

"For me, from the early 70s to the mid 90s, time doesn't exist. So I had to re-learn things and put them in the proper category."

Aside from not remembering Alf or the great run New Coke had, Gretzky said missing two decades worth of his memory has not been a major hindrance.

"People say, 'it must be terrible not to remember,' but what you don't know about, you don't think about, so it's no big deal," he said.

Walter's lack of a short-term memory has actually made Canada's ultimate hockey dad a much better athlete. "My golf game has improved more than I can tell you. People say I cheat, but I just can't remember," he laughed.

Walter also shared some of his favourite stories spawned by Wayne's hockey career. Walter told the tale of a plane ride to Edmonton that left one lady with a red face and a cold breakfast.

"I reached into the pouch on the seat in front of me and pulled out a Sports Illustrated and Wayne was on the cover. The lady beside me says, 'I see you're reading about Wayne Gretzky, I don't know how he ever made it to the NHL, he's lucky he's got all those great players around him,'" Walter explained.

A stewardess on the flight brought the hockey critic up to speed. "As you know on a long flight, they serve you a meal," Walter continued. "The stewardess came around and said, 'Mr. Gretzky, are you going to Edmonton to watch your son play? I understand he's going to break Gordie [Howe's] record.' When the food came, the lady beside me sat there so embarrassed she didn't touch her eggs, bacon or toast."

Not surprisingly, the fame Wayne has brought to the Gretzky name has changed the family dynamic a great deal. Walter said there is no such thing as a low-profile Gretzky gathering. "It's better when Wayne doesn't show up because when he comes, everybody finds out and half of Brantford shows up," Walter said.

It does not take an event like Wayne returning home to prompt people to knock on the front door of the Gretzky house in Brantford. Walter said people asking for money to fund a relative's surgery and requests for him to visit people in the hospital are a common occurrence.

"Someone rings my door bell and says to me, 'can you come to the hospital with us, you'd be an inspiration to my mother.' I get that all the time," Walter said.

When asked how he responds to such personal pleas, Walter answered simply and softly – "I go."

What else would you expect from a man who doesn't let any golden opportunities slip by?

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Copyright The Gazette 2001