Dangers of drunk driving driven home for LCI students during presentation

By Garrett Simmons

Lethbridge School District No. 51

Communications Officer

One poor decision can change your life forever.

That was just one of the messages delivered to Lethbridge Collegiate Institute students on Wednesday, during a Students Against Drunk Driving and the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission presentation.

Hayden Bell, a former standout football player for the St. Francis Browns in Calgary, told his story of how a promising football career was cut short due to a single-vehicle collision.

On Sept. 3 of 2010, Bell was in Calgary to celebrate his 20th birthday as his junior football team, the Okanagan Sun, was on a bye week.

Following an evening in the pub, Bell followed his best friend into a car, with his friend’s cousin behind the wheel. His cousin only had a few beers that night, and the group thought they would save money on cab fare.

Sitting in the backseat without his seatbelt on, an intoxicated Bell was having the time of his life, until the car veered off Crowchild into a brick sign, before the vehicle struck a tree.

Bell was found by emergency responders choking on his own vomit, with serious injuries, which included a punctured lung, injuries to his spleen, a fractured sternum and brain damage. Eventually, he regained consciousness from his drug-induced coma, and spent the next month in intensive care. That wasn’t even the worst of it.

“My brain had been so severely damaged, there was a ton of stuff I had forgotten how to do,” Bell told LCI students, as he likened it to being a newborn baby.

He had gone from being a starter on his junior football team, to someone who struggled with the most basic of tasks.

“My mom told me it took me five minutes to move a set of rings from one stick to another.”

Rehabilitation was slow and painful, but incremental improvements gave him some hope. That hope soon came crashing down.

“No matter how much I improved, they told me I could never play contact sports again. That was a dealbreaker for me. I wanted to die. I asked my mom to kill me, and it broke her heart. I was so devastated.”

Bell had always been a standout athlete and in high school, he focused on football.

“I wanted to pursue a career as a pro athlete,” said Bell, who left Calgary after his senior year to play junior football in Victoria.

After toying with the idea of playing at the University of Alberta, Bell opted to continue his junior career with the Okanagan Sun, and soon earned a starting spot.

“The coaches were starting to see my potential for the CFL,” said Bell.

Now, that dream was in ruins, and as Bell struggled to grasp his new reality, he eventually found the courage to get out of that hospital bed and tell his story. He was finally released from the hospital in February of 2011, and then spent six months as an outpatient in Calgary. His road to recovery continues to this day.

“It’s been six years from the crash and I’m still rehabilitating,” said Bell, who added his balance is still an issue, and his short-term memory still gives him problems.

He has difficulty getting through his presentations, and even though sharing his experience can be painful, Bell added it’s important for students across Alberta to know how preventable it all was.

“There is a relationship between choices and consequences,” said Bell, who added as a young athlete, he felt invincible. “On the evening of Sept. 3, 2010, my self-serving actions affected everyone in my life.”

And with that, he had one final message for LCI students.

“In pursuit of your dreams, stay focused, avoid risks and take care of the most important thing – you.”

Bell’s presentation kicked off the SADD Alberta Liquor Bag Contest event at LCI. Nine winners were announced in three categories, as the Grade 10-12 category featured LCI’s Xavier Bernard, who won second place, and a $150 gift card.

LCI’s Kimberlie Crowe was named the overall winner of the province-wide competition, which came with a $500 gift card.

Date posted: March 8, 2017