From the Vault

How my dad almost lost his leg…

Studying for a Canadian politics exam in his parent’s dungeon-like basement, Phil was thankful when Jim Hudson’s call broke the morning’s silence. On that balmy April Saturday, Jim said he’d come over to the Hager’s Kerrisdale house after lunch with Bruce “Eagle” McCarther so they could have a study break throwing the pigskin around the side lawn.

Phil was 6’3”, 230 lbs and a loose-head prop for the University of B.C.’s rugby team – A clean-cut athlete loved by his friends for his happy-go-lucky demeanor. He felt great as he went outside in his sweatpants, T-shirt and favourite woolen slippers to play catch with Jim and Eagle.

After some time playing, Reggie Tupper swung by on his Triumph motorcycle and Phil got the uncontrollable urge to jump on his old bike and take it for a rip. The winter had been harsh by Vancouver standards. It was the spring before 1969’s “Summer of Love” and Phil and his buddies were discovering the freedom a set of wheels could bring. Needing a more suitable vehicle for his winter commute to UBC, Phil had sold the Triumph to Reggie six months earlier. Phil’s replacement car — an army surplus 1952 Willys 4×4 Jeep with camouflage paint from the Korean War — was sitting in the driveway next to his parent’s bungalow.

“I gotta take it for a ride,” Phil pleaded.

“Take it, but I want to try out the Jeep,” Reggie replied.

“The keys are in there,” Phil was already on the bike as he shouted to his three friends, “I’ll meet you back here in 20 minutes!”

He hit Southwest Marine Drive and maxed the Triumph out at about 100mph on the way out to UBC. Nobody was on this road because the university was closed on weekends and most students got to and from campus via 10th Avenue. After reaching Totem Park he turned around and gunned it for home, once again feeling that ineffable joy the open road can bring.

Two blocks from home, Phil decided to take a peek at his uncle’s backyard renovation. Pulling into the gravel laneway, he slowed to a crawl and straightened his back to see over the fence. As he drew near the T intersection he began a slow, blind left turn. Halfway through the turn, Reggie flew into the intersection in the Jeep and blindsided him. Its bumper smashed into his calf, sending him flying over his handlebars six feet into the air.

Years of tackling and rucking on the rugby field taught him to tuck his neck in and roll out of the fall. Clutching his battered shoulder, Phil looked down and saw the bottom of his leather slipper curled beside his calf with his right foot. It clung to his leg by the Achilles tendon. Two bones jutted out from where his foot used to be and blood spurted with each heartbeat.

His three friends from the jeep were immediately upon him. Though adrenaline numbed the pain, Eagle’s ghostly-white face revealed the severity of the situation to Phil.

After nearly losing his right foot to gangrene, Phil was put in a cast for six months, but he never fully recovered.

Over the next several decades his menisci and ligaments ground down, his legs ballooned and burned as mobility an issue. However, two years ago he bought another hog and still enjoys maxing it out on a nice spring day.

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