For Chris Somerville the evening of July 23, 2003 is difficult to remember, yet impossible to forget.
It was around 10 p.m. and the athletic then-23-year-old was out enjoying a cool summer evening skateboarding and hanging out with friends.
The young men had spent the afternoon perfecting some street tricks for an upcoming skate competition, and were ready to call it a night when one fellow offered them a ride to a party and then home.
Although he had never met the driver before, his friends knew who he was and accepted the offer. Considering the distance they had to travel, a ride seemed like a great idea.
After spending an hour or so at the party, they all decided it was time to head home. While driving home, the young driver took a corner onto George Ferguson Way in Abbotsford much too tight and the rear tire bumped up on the curb. Not long after, they noticed an RCMP cruiser following closely behind. Within minutes the car was surrounded by numerous police cars motioning the driver to pull over to the side of the road.
Before the police could speak to anyone inside the vehicle, the driver – who was only 14 years old and had taken the car without the consent of the owner – panicked and sped off, racing west on George Ferguson Way towards Clearbrook.
In an attempt to elude police, the driver turned onto a side street near Clearbrook Road.
That’s when Somerville says everything turned black.
Later, opening his eyes for the first time, Somerville knew something wasn’t right. Laying motionless on a bed at Vancouver General Hospital, he remembers the look of concern on the faces of his parents and his brothers. He remembers all the tubes in his nose and in his mouth.
He couldn’t feel his legs.
The car in which he had been a passenger had rolled over and hit a concrete barrier at the side of the road. The three others in the car had walked away, however the impact of the crash had left Chris with a severed spinal cord between the T11 and T12 vertebrae in his lower back, just above his hips. The life he had known changed forever.
Sitting in a small rented retail space on Scott Road in North Delta, Somerville looks like a typical skateboarder, wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans, black baseball cap turned backwards, and white DC skater shoes. Nearly 10 years have passed since his accident.
The soft-spoken 32-year-old manoeuvres his wheelchair around numerous empty display cases and racks of new high-end skateboards strategically placed throughout the room. The bravado of a cocky kid. Somerville’s demeanor is now all business.
Once a sponsored skateboarder with the local skate shop West 49, Somerville had been a recognized name on the local skate scene.
Looking back, he says the memory of that catastrophic night and the months that followed gave him new goals to reach.
“I remember when the doctors told me I was paralyzed and that I would never walk again,” he said. “Initially it was hard to deal with, I was depressed, but I was determined to get better.”
After three months in hospital and then three more months at G.F. Strong Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver, Somerville mastered brace walking, the ability to walk with the use of supports on his legs and a metal walker.
He eventually moved to an assisted living apartment in Abbotsford to be near his family.
In 2004, after receiving a small monetary settlement to help offset living and medical expenses, he purchased a specially equipped car and moved into an apartment in Vancouver to be closer to his rehab and physiotherapy.
While at GF Strong, his physiotherapist introduced him to Michael French, a movie producer who offered Somerville a bit part in the movie Heart of a Dragon, the story about Man in Motion Rick Hansen, the well-known wheelchair athlete, activist and advocate for people with spinal cord injuries.
Somerville enrolled in some graphic design and writing courses at Vancouver Community College in an attempt to begin a career working with computers, however the love of skateboarding was never far from his mind.
“I was looking for jobs, but no bites, and I knew I needed to make some money,” he said. “It was always a dream to open my own skateboard shop. I never wanted to give up skateboarding. I love it so much.”
So with some financial help offered through a special fund set up to help people with disabilities, Somerville enrolled in the Surrey based SEEDS program (Self-Employment and Entrepreneur Development Society) to learn the skills needed to open his own business.
Having almost finished the course, Somerville, with his fiancée Gillian, is putting the final touches on Street Dreamz, a skateboard shop at 7923 Scott Rd. in North Delta.
“I always considered myself a street skater and this has been my dream so the name Street Dreamz just came together.”
His goal is to give back to the sport he loves and to provide support to young boarders. He still enjoys to roll his chair around the skatepark on 84 Avenue and 112 Street with his friends and would like to see an even larger park in North Delta in the future.
“I’d like to do some inspirational speaking at local schools, to let kids know that you can do anything you want, to not give up on your dreams.”
For more information, check http://www.streetdreamzboardshop.com