Monthly Archives: November 2017

Story Untold: “My Chance to Live Was Pretty Much Zero”

Keagan Girdlestone on Story Untold

They say you never forget how to ride a bicycle. South Africa’s Keagan Girdlestone is living proof.

At 19 years of age in 2016, the Pretoria native was rising fast in the world of cycling, already the youngest ever champion in the history of New Zealand’s Le Race, and a former under-16 national champion in South Africa. Competing against cyclists from around the world at Italy’s Coppa della Pace, and racing to catch up to the pack after an earlier collision, he crashed head first into his team car, slicing open his jugular vein and carotid artery.

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“I didn’t even comprehend what had happened by the time it had happened. The next thing I know, I woke up three days later in the hospital,” says Girdlestone, now 20. “I knew when it had happened, I’d cut my throat. I could feel this warm liquid running down my neck. The last thing I remember was a spectator going, ‘Piano, Piano, Piano,’ telling me to take it easy.”

The first reports from the scene pronounced Keagan dead. Blood covered the road, staining the pavement for over a month. The rest of the race was cancelled in the aftermath.

“I lost pretty much my entire blood supply. I don’t know the exact number, but I think it was something like eight pints of blood. My chance to live was pretty much zero,” says Girdlestone.

“The first reporters that were [on the scene] and saw the aftermath of what had happened, they were just like, ‘nah, this guy’s dead. That’s so much blood.’ My blood stained the roads for a few months. They couldn’t actually clean it off.” – Keagan Girdlestone

The teen was rushed to hospital, where doctors predicted he wouldn’t survive the next 24 hours. His parents — thousands of miles away in New Zealand — scrambled to catch a plane to Italy, where they were told that if Keagan survived, he would likely be braindead for the rest of his life.

On day three, Girdlestone awoke from his coma. So began a months-long process of recovery. First feeding through a nose tube and barely able to sit up, the young cyclist worked on sitting, then standing, before eventually taking his first steps nearly a month after the incident. Five months later, he was back on a bicycle in his adopted home of Christchurch, New Zealand.

This year, Girdlestone competed at Le Race for the first time again, the same event he won as a 16-year-old in 2014. More ambitious plans lie ahead in the future.

“I doubt myself a lot, but at the same time, I believe 100 percent that I can make it back as a professional,” he says. “It’s a very complicated sort of self-process, where you believe in yourself, but you’re also like, ‘what if?’”

“It’s definitely made me a stronger person,” Girdlestone adds. “I want to achieve the top level of the sport again, because I want to be a role model to people. Things always go wrong… it doesn’t matter who you are. Whatever happens, it’s not going to define whether you live your dreams or not. It’s how you react to it, how you respond.”

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Story Untold: “If I Knew [Airport Security] Any Better, I’d Have to Send Them Christmas Cards”

Mike Spencer Bown on Story Untold

Few and far between are those who can lay claim to visiting every country on the planet. Even rarer are the likes who can swap travel stories with Mike Spencer Bown.

Having backpacked nonstop since 1990, the Ottawa-born, Calgary-raised Bown has hitchhiked through warzone Iraq and Afghanistan, explored the underground party scenes of Iran and Eastern Europe, and hunted with the Mbuti pygmy tribe while evading genocidal rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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The author of The World’s Most Travelled Man, a tale of “wilderness wandering, sea voyages, and overland treks,” Bown’s hunger for travel began after a months-long trip to Central America in his twenties.

“I had a very strong interest in reality. I wanted to know how things really work and what things are really like — and of course, I had to go out and find this [out] for myself,” he says. “Once I got [started backpacking,] I noticed that everything I’d learned in this academic sense was mostly useless — and a good part of it was wrong.”

So began a decades-long odyssey of backpacking around the world, hopping on flights from one distant corner to the next — and boarding chicken buses from small town to smaller town. Passports would fill up in the span of a year and a half — or else be replaced sooner after a few too many eyebrow-raising stamps showed up.

“I knew the [border] police quite well,” he laughs. “I was joking at one point, if I knew them any better, I’d have to send them Christmas cards.”

In Somalia, Bown made headlines as the country’s first tourist in decades. In Arctic Russia, the Yakut people taught him to drive a reindeer sleigh while drunk on vodka.

“Travel is such an excellent filter — the large number of boring people are sort of filtered out, and you end up being around a larger number of adventurers, and people who have quite fascinating views of the world,” says Bown.

Even before his travels outside of Canada, Bown had a taste for adventure and the wilderness. Once, while living in British Columbia, he spent 86 days in the Selkirk mountains without any human contact — hunting for food and foraging for berries.

“My parents were quite inclined to just sort of get in the car and say, ‘let’s drive across the continent.’ We’d just drive around, looking at the sky for wherever was sunniest. Of course, I’ve taken it much further,” Bown laughs.

Along the way, the World’s Most Travelled Man author says he’s gained an appreciation for the hospitality of strangers, no matter where he’s travelled.

“I was quite surprised at how kind and humane people are, even in the most violent, warlike countries […] I think there’s a commonality to humanity that makes travel possible,” says Bown.

“It’s very satisfying for a human, because I think it’s naturally what we’re supposed to be dealing with. I mean, we’re a people who were evolved to be able to handle giant ground sloth, and mammoths, and cave lions. Early on, it was quite an adventure to survive as a human — and that was 95 percent of our evolutionary history.”

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Story Untold: “Life Is Too Short to Worry About Getting It Wrong”

Story Untold with TiRon & Ayomari

In a music industry driven by fitting the mould, TiRon & Ayomari defy easy categorization.

Not exactly hip-hop. Not quite R&B. Ditto for indie and pop music. In the midst of this landscape of carefully-curated brands and genres, of target audiences and defined demographics, the Los Angeles-based duo’s music raises a question: can one be all of the above, instead?

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“We legit had A&Rs tell us, ‘I love [your music], but it would be better if y’all were white. It’d be easier to sell this thing if you guys were white,’” says TiRon. “We used to get talked out of a lot of shit.”

The experiences come out on the duo’s latest offering, the full-length W.E.T. (Wonderful Ego Trip) — a follow-up to 2015’s The Great New Wonderful. The album comes after a two-year period in which, after earning fans out of the likes of hip-hop luminaries in Q-Tip and Diddy, and reaching new heights in commercial success, the duo’s manager, Dominique Trenier, passed away.

“We kind of shut down,” says TiRon.

Ayomari adds, “where do we want to go from here as a group, you know what I’m saying?”

After the early success of 2011’s A Sucker For Pumps, dubbed an album about boys and girls for men and women; and TGNW, an album about self-love, the two — who originally connected online as aspiring artists — felt as though they’d reached a breaking point. What began as an ego-check turned into a spark for TiRon & Ayomari’s new music: a chance to harness that ego and put it under the spotlight.

“It was really just grabbing the bulls by the horn and realizing that we had something to say,” says Ayomari. “Realizing that we were on the path ourselves, and we were growing ourselves. And regardless of what we were going through, it doesn’t mean that we should stop doing what we do.”

“Really connecting with all of that anger, all of that frustration,” says TiRon. “We have to look at the evils and the negative of who we are and deal with it. Because the more we sweep it under the rug, the more we hide it, the stronger it gets.”

“It’s that, and it’s also dealing with the ego within yourself,” Ayomari adds. “Ego doesn’t always come in the form of anger; it could come in the form of self-loathing or self-doubt.”

In the end, the Chicago native concedes, W.E.T. carries the torch from their previous albums.

“This is another album about relationships,” Ayomari laughs, “the relationship with the ego.”

Photo provided by TiRon & Ayomari. Photo credit: Ed Cañas Photography.

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Story Untold: “[I Want] a Community Where We Can All Live Together”

Emma Cubitt on Story Untold

What if the key to growing a vibrant city isn’t in endless suburbs or more condo projects? What if, instead, it lay right in our backyards?

Hamilton’s Emma Cubitt sees big potential in small houses lining the city’s laneways. Along with Good Shepherd Hamilton and the Social Planning and Research Council, Cubitt — a 37-year-old architect — is working on the production of 26 smaller duplexes for single women who have experienced homelessness.

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“My goal is to create more places for people to belong, and to gather, and to find their place in the community,” she says. “With laneway housing, the idea is that you’re maintaining the existing fabric of a city — especially residential neighbourhoods.”

For Cubitt, originally from Chicago, it’s a passion that dates back ten years to her master’s thesis at the University of Waterloo. At the time, she says, laneway homes had been building momentum in cities like Vancouver and Toronto.

“There’s this essay that I love by Gary Michael Dault… he calls this idea of inhabiting the laneways an ‘inverse city.’ It’s like turning a neighbourhood inside-out like an old sweater,” says Cubitt, “and I love that description, because I think you see a different kind of city from the lane than you do from the street, or than you would from the front lobby of a larger tower.”

Cubitt’s hope is that with the success of this laneway housing development, similar projects will see the green light to go ahead across the city:

“My hope is that we’ll be able to build pocket communities, like we’re doing with Good Shepherd, but also individual laneway houses across the city. There’s definitely capacity for hundreds, if not thousands.”

As Hamilton and the rest of the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area continue to see a rise in real estate prices, the smaller, more affordable laneway homes could offer a welcome alternative to home-seekers feeling left behind. For Cubitt, also the co-founder of Mustard Seed, a food co-op in Hamilton, it’s all part of a desire for community-building and belonging:

“People say Hamilton is the biggest small town, and while it’s starting to grow quite a bit now, and gentrify and change, we want to be able to keep that feeling that everyone has a place, no matter if they’re a newcomer or they’ve been here for generations.”

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Story Untold: “[My Experience with] Homelessness Is the Greatest Asset I Have”

Story Untold with Joe Roberts

Ask Joe Roberts about the worst part of homelessness, and he’ll tell you it’s not the cold or the rain. It’s the isolation.

“You’re seeing a world going on around you, but you’re not actually part of that world,” he says. “[You feel] invisible as you’re sitting on the sidewalk and people are walking by, going about their business.”

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It’s a feeling Roberts knows all too well. For close to three years in his early twenties, the Barrie, Ont. native lived homeless on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, wrestling with an addiction to drugs and alcohol — an addiction which, at his lowest, led to Roberts selling his only pair of boots for $10 worth of heroin.

“[Heroin] was a drug that shut me down emotionally. The problem is, it’s highly addictive, it has an increasing tolerance, and it’s not a cheap thing. My life became consumed with [getting the next fix].” – Joe Roberts

Now over 20 years sober and after finding success as the CEO of a multimedia company, it’s a feeling he hopes no other young Canadian will have to experience — and a cause for which he spent the better part of the past two years pushing a shopping cart over 9,000 kilometres across Canada. Starting in May of 2016, Roberts set off from St. John’s, Newfoundland and continued his way across the country for 517 days before arriving in Vancouver on September 29th, 2017. In total, he walked over 450 half-marathons along the way.

“The truth is, I’m a community investment gone correct,” says Roberts. “You know, most of us when we were growing up had that defining moment where our lives could’ve gone sideways. But because we had good people in our lives, we were afforded the ability to make a mistake or two, and it didn’t create dire consequences in our lives. But the truth is that not all families are created equal.”

“The whole walk across Canada was to raise dollars and awareness to support a conversation of what we need to do to better support and create prevention models that catch kids early so they don’t end up on the street pushing a shopping cart.” – Joe Roberts

“The shopping cart was that symbol of chronic homelessness — the thing we’re trying to avoid for kids,” he adds. “In the 1980s, I was one of those guys pushing a shopping cart around the Downtown Eastside.”

Along his journey, Roberts met with the Prime Minister of Canada, spoke at WE Day, and did over 450 presentations, often speaking to children about his journey. Dubbed The Push for Change, his mission is one that connects right back to his time spent on the street — and one that continues, even after the walk across Canada is over.

“The greatest gift that you can give somebody who is experiencing homelessness is to see them. To engage with them. They have a story,” says Roberts. “We need to get to a place where we better understand what the issues are, and then we won’t be judging a person who’s sitting on a piece of cardboard and going through that experience.”

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