St. John’s, N.L. – August 11, 2010
Cross-country bike odyssey to finish on Thursday in St. John’s, NL with emotional reunion between aunt and nephew – University of Victoria student cycled 7,500 km by himself to raise awareness and funds in support of brain injury survivors in honour of his aunt.
As he arrives on Thursday, August 12, 2010 at St. John’s historic waterfront centre, University of Victoria physics student Brad Cownden, 23, looks forward to a warm embrace from his aunt who inspired him to cycle across Canada. His aunt, Connie MacKenzie, traveled alone, mostly by bus, all the way from Victoria to greet Cownden upon his successful finish in St. John’s. MacKenzie suffered a near-fatal car accident 10 years ago that severely impacted her brain and her lifestyle. A former nurse, MacKenzie has not been able to work due to permanent damage to her critical-thinking centres. It was her battle to recover that inspired Cownden to embark on his cross-country ride.
Cownden has come a long way since June 1, when members of the Victoria Brain Injury Association bid farewell, and when he departed on his cross country cycle trek from Victoria by himself. He has averaged over 120 km a day, through hot temperatures, snow, sleet, headwinds and floods, as well as healthy doses of fatigue. However, the journey is just beginning for this physics and astronomy major who will be entering his fourth year at the University of Victoria this fall: Cownden has become the unlikely poster boy for a growing grassroots movement in support of acquired brain injury.
Brain injury is the leading cause of death for Canadians under 45, according to the Brain Injury Association of Canada. Every year, over 50,000 Canadians suffer a brain injury. The medical system is still catching up with this widespread challenge, as there are not many long-term rehabilitation programs available to survivors across the country. Much of the support is provided instead by the volunteer-based brain injury associations all across Canada, under the umbrella of the Brain Injury Association of Canada.
“When my cousin Caryn and I created brainStormRIDE, we never expected the overwhelming response from families of brain survivors, to politicians or the general public,” Cownden says. “What we have also learned is that all those voices were out there, waiting to be heard and connected. My plan is to help build on the interactive, national network of friends and volunteers that we have developed together.”
Along his journey, Cownden made hundreds of friends and promoted his cause among thousands more, thanks to his daily blogs on www.brainstormride.org, filed via his BlackBerry. Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, MP, declared himself a fan as he twittered a picture with Cownden following their meeting in Toronto at the Thunder Beach cottage of Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett, MD, Health Care Critic.
Cownden’s reception committee, headed by Jeannette Holman Price, on Thursday will be made up of admirers of all walks of life, including members of C.A.N.D.O. – Children and Adolescents with Neurological Disabilites Organization – of Newfoundland and Labrador and an active group within the BIAC community dedicated to pediatric brain injuries and other volunteers.
Fans all over the country will be cheering him as well. Cownden has been invited to speak at a series of brain injury fundraisers across the country.
From September 30 to October 2, he will be in Regina, Saskatchewan, attending the 7th Annual Conference of the Brain Injury Association of Canada.
On November 15, he will be the guest speaker at the 4th Annual Vancouver Hawaiian Oyster Odyssey (HOO), to be held at Van Dusen Gardens. In January, he will be attending Toronto’s own fundraiser. “This is an incredible young man,” says Shirley Johnson, President of the Brain Injury Association of Canada. “We want to also recognize his achievement across the country and we can’t wait to congratulate him for all he has done for brain injury survivors.”
Ms. Johnson and all the representatives of like minded associations across Canada need all the help they can get from inspiring people like Cownden, as well as donors and sponsors. The Brain Injury Association of Canada has been built on passion and commitment ever since its founding in 2003, while annual, star-studded Hawaiian-themed “FUNdraisers” have become a staple of communities. Since the first HOO was held at Toronto’s Miller Tavern in 2005, more than $600,000 has been raised over the last 6 years.