Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Walter Spencer's incredible comeback

The Montreal Alouettes' training camp is producing some of the most interesting stories of the CFL pre-season so far. We've already talked about linebacker Marc-Olivier Brouillette's battle to keep his leg and the Alouettes' decision to cut former star NFL running back Ahman Green, but the story of linebacker Walter Spencer is just as notable. Spencer was stabbed twice in a Montreal bar last September, once in the heart, and his very survival was in question. Now, he's back on the field and competing to make the team again, but his memories of his frightening past few months are still vividly clear. In a piece published Tuesday, Spencer opened up to The Gazette's Herb Zurkowsky about what he went through last fall. It makes for incredible reading, particularly the part where Spencer talks about how he didn't notice the pain en route to hospital, but felt his body shutting down:

"I was aware of everything with my body. My breathing was changing and my heart was shutting down. I knew the time I had." ... "I walked outside, talked to police and the ambulance was right there. The ambulance was fast," he said. "I was fighting not to go to sleep. I knew I was dying and I was getting sleepy. I knew, if I went to sleep, I was dead. I was fighting until I got to the hospital to stay awake."

Spencer (#46 in the above photo, seen with Als' quarterback Anthony Calvillo on the sidelines in a Sept. 3 game) was reportedly attacked by a number of guys inside a bar, blindsided by people attempting to rob him. He suffered two stab wounds, including one very serious wound to his heart's left ventricle. Yet, despite initial questions on whether he'd pull through at all, he only stayed in hospital for a week, lost just five pounds and was back lifting some weights as early as October. He resumed light jogging and training in November and made the trip to the Grey Cup with the Alouettes, although he didn't play. In December, he was able to resume full training, and he seems to have returned to the superb physical form that's made him a particularly renowned presence on the Alouettes' special teams. He passed his physical Saturday, and looks to be in good shape to make the team again.

Spencer, 32, was born in Detroit but grew up in Windsor, making him a valuable non-import. He's entering his eighth CFL season and his fifth with Montreal, where he's turned into a particular force; he was leading the Alouettes with 11 special-teams tackles at the time of his injury last September. New defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar seems quite high on him, as evidenced by his comments in Zurkowsky's piece, and he's certainly seen enough of Spencer to know what he can bring; Tibesar was the Alouettes' linebackers coach before his promotion this offseason following Tim Burke's departure for Winnipeg, and he's maintained his role with the linebackers as well. That bodes well for Spencer's chances with the squad. Even if he doesn't make the final team for some reason, though, getting back this far this is pretty incredible, as he told Zurkowsky:

"It felt good to be back on the field, thinking about all the training I did," he said. "Damn, it all paid off, all the hard work. How blessed I am, not knowing if I would play again. And now, six or seven months later, I'm back to being 100 per cent.

It's going to be a memorable year for Spencer. In addition to his miraculous recovery, he got married in December and is expecting to be a father for the first time later this season. He said the incident's made him reconsider life, and value every single moment.

"You appreciate everything. You appreciate life," he said. "God is good. I must be his favourite. I've got nothing to complain about."

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