Terry Evanshen was one of Canadian football’s greatest receivers——a little man in a big man’s game who carried the ball for more than 10,000 yards in 14 bone-jarring seasons.
He played every down as if it was his last. And in all his years in the pros a career that put him in the top 10 in total catches with a remarkable 92 touchdowns he surrendered only three fumbles.
A statistic that’s a measure of his legendary determination to never give up. Despite his Hall of Fame career, Terry’s memories of his playing days have been irretrievably lost to amnesia.
The 14 years that saw Terry win the Schenley Award for outstanding Canadian player twice, seven all-star selections and a raft of other records have been forgotten.
It was in the summer of 1988 that his post-football career in sales was taking off.
One day in July, his youngest daughter Jennifer remembers getting a phone call from Terry on his way home from work.
“He called on his cell phone, and said, ‘I’ll be home in 10 minutes.’ Coming home for a barbecue.” Jennifer said, “And I said, ‘I love you’ and he said, ‘OK, I love you. I’ll see you in 10 minutes.’”
But as he passed through an intersection a van ran a red light, smashing into Terry’s jeep, ripping him out of his seat belt and sending him hurtling five meters through the air.
Within minutes Terry’s unconscious body was picked up by paramedics at the side of the road.
Noticing his skin had taken on a deep blue hue——indicating a lack of oxygen——medics put a pipe down Terry’s throat, and he was rushed to nearby Oshawa General hospital.
“By the time Terry came in, we were ready and waiting for him,” said Marianne Timmermans, one of the nurses who initially worked on him. He was in critical condition.
Moments later, police arrived at the Evanshen home with the news. Lorraine, Terry’s wife of 25 years, remembers seeing him in the intensive care unit for the first time after the accident.
There was nothing but machines all over him. He wasn’t a pretty sight, and at that time their hope and that of the doctors wasn’t very good. Terry lay deep in a coma.
But as unbelievable as his injuries seemed to be, so too were Terry’s powers of recovery. Three weeks after being thrown from his vehicle, he came out of his coma. But although he was by all appearances intact, Terry would soon reveal an injury far more severe than whatever damage had been done to his body.
A lifetime of memories had been vir-tually wiped clean. He didn’t even recognize his own wife. It wasn’t just his memories of people and events that had been erased.
When Terry awoke from his coma, he had been all but reduced to the level of a child; everything from his ability to talk and walk to his understanding of what it meant to be a husband and a father were all gone.
At age 44, Terry Evanshen would be starting all over again. Terry had to retrain himself how to think, how to speak, even relearning something as basic as how to shave.
But as unsettling as his behavior was for his family, what made it worse was that Terry’s brain could not understand the most basic human emotions. He recalls what it was like to live without a sense of what love is: not knowing what the word meant, I wouldn’t know how to look at other people. I wouldn’t know how to show proper affection to you. What is that affection anyway? What is right, what should I do?
But as much as Terry had a problem, he also had the support of his family, marked by small victories and a renewed bond between him and his three daughters like when they taught him how to play football again.
“So I was standing there and I said ‘Put your hand out,’ like he used to,” said Terry’s daughter Tara. “So he did and then Tracey threw him the ball and that’s when he stood there, and that’s when I realized, ‘Oh my god, I think he really doesn’t remember how to do this.’ ”
But when Terry returned in 1992 from a six-month stint at a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center in Washington State, his recovery really began to pick up steam.
It has taken years to rebuild his shattered life, but today, more than 20 years since his playing days Terry is a highly sought after motivational speaker. He tells his inspiring story of perseverance and courage in his presentation, Seize Each Day.
“Never forget, we’re all in this game of life together,” Evanshen said, as he frequently referred to his large stack of cue cards in his hands. “We will get to the finish line, one day at a time, one moment at a time, but celebrate the journey. Seize today, because yesterday is gone and is never coming back.”
The subject of the most watched Canadian movie of 2005, The Man Who Lost Himself, Evanshen says his family has been his most important asset. He stresses that he refuses to be a victim, claiming he is a survivor.