Overcoming challenges

Staff ~ Transcontinental Media
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Alex LeRiche lifeguards and teaches swimming at the Bruce II Sports Centre. He suffered an aneurysm when he was 20 and had to relearn how to do almost everything. — Photo by Aethne Hinchliffe/The Gulf News

Alex LeRiche didn’t expect to see his 50th birthday, but he did. And he saw it with 50 lobsters, 50 steaks, 50 hotdogs and 50 hamburgers.

That was last June, and the following month, on July 10, he and his wife Barbara got married.

 

The old Alex

There’s a lot LeRiche remembers about the evening he became the new Alex — the evening of Oct. 16, 1981.

LeRiche, 20 at the time, had been working with Remotec, having recently graduated from the College of Fishery in St. John’s. He went up North to work for a stint to do remote sensing.

He and his girlfriend, Judy Ford, returned to Port aux Basques for Thanksgiving. The evening of Oct. 16, Mr. LeRiche went out for a jog. He parked his car by the Grand Bay West Bridge and jogged to where the flags are at Cheeseman Provincial Park.

He said when he got to the bottom of the hill by the tourist chalet he collapsed. At this point, he sat on the guardrail. No one stopped for him, so he hopped from there to his car.

“The keys were under the fender,” he said. “I unlocked the door, rolled the windows down and started the car.”

The car was standard.

“I had no idea what was going on,” said LeRiche. “I just wanted to go home.”

So that’s where his cousin Dave took him. His father Ben took him to the Channel Hospital that evening. About two days later, LeRiche went to St. John’s.

 

The new Alex

There’s nothing short about LeRiche’s story.

About a week after his aneurysm, he found out his girlfriend had been struck and killed by a car not far from her university residence. He was in the hospital for about five months, and from there he spent another few months at the Leonard Miller Centre in St. John’s for rehabilitation.

He had to relearn everything, he said. Talk. Walk. Cook. Read. These were just some of the things he had to learn.

“There’s lots you can do with one hand,” he said.

And there’s lots he does. Many people in the community know LeRiche from the Bruce II Sports Centre, where he stands on the deck with a flutter board and watches the water like a hawk to make sure nothing happens to any swimmer. Then there are those he’s taught to swim.

That’s another thing LeRiche had to relearn. His brother Leonard, who is an accomplished swimmer, showed LeRiche how to swim with one arm and one leg.

In 2007, someone from the

Community Employment Corp. approached Wanda Merrigan about LeRiche working at the pool.

Merrigan said one of the first questions that popped into her mind was: how does he swim?

“He came up to see me and we chatted for a little while, and he was interested in getting back into that field,” she said. “And I said, ‘I have to ask you flat out, how can you swim?’”

After their chat, the two got in the water, said Merrigan.

“I was swimming along, and he was swimming, and he was just lapping me,” she said. “I swam twice as hard as what I normally do.”

When  Merrigan was a medal bearer for the 25th Anniversary Rick Hansen Man in Motion Tour on Sept. 6, she recounted this story as one that inspires her to overcome challenges.

LeRiche doesn’t pretend things haven’t been a struggle and aren’t still sometimes a struggle.

“When I get up in the morning, I put my feet on the floor and thank God,” he said, when asked how he deals with the challenges.

 

The Gulf News

Organizations: College of Fishery, Remotec, Channel Hospital Leonard Miller Centre Bruce II Sports Centre Community Employment Gulf News

Geographic location: Port aux Basques for Thanksgiving

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  • Janet
    September 19, 2011 - 16:55

    I was one of the many nurses who took care of Alex while a patient on neurosurgery.He was and is an inspiration.I also had the privelege to have him teach my son swimming .Alex, you rock!!!!!!!!!!!

  • BuddyCat
    September 19, 2011 - 11:26

    You go Alex!