Snowmobile community rallies behind paralyzed sledder

The terrible snowmobiling accident that paralyzed Whitehorse's Darryl Tait, 19, has sent shockwaves through the sledding community.

The terrible snowmobiling accident that paralyzed Whitehorse’s Darryl Tait, 19, has sent shockwaves through the sledding community.

While it has brought together the already closeknit community in an effort to help Tait and his family in this dark time, it has also forced world-class sledders like Tait to re-examine the dangers of their chosen profession.

“For our riders it’s kind of an eye-opener, like a lot of them realized that something like this could happen to them, doing what we do,” said Blake Wildfong, Tait’s friend and fellow sledder. “So for some of them it’s a reality check. They have to sit back and assess their own careers, decide what’s important to them and what level of commitment they want to make as professional riders.”

Tait was badly injured while performing a backflip on his snowmobile at a sledding demonstration in New Hampshire on October 11. Unable to complete the flip – possibly because of a mechanical malfunction – Tait was crushed by his sled.

Because of the damage to his lungs in the accident, one being punctured and the other collapsed, doctors waited for Tait to be removed from a respirator before performing back surgery. After the surgery, it was confirmed by doctors that Tait had severed his spinal cord during the accident and was now paralyzed from the chest down.

Tait was transported via a medevac flight to the Vancouver General Hospital on October 26 where he will receive further treatment and eventually attend a rehab centre.

In direct response to Tait’s accident, Wildfong has established the Northern Freestyle Snowmobile Coalition (NFSC), in which he and other professional sledders with Summit Savages and Sled Porn, snowmobile merchandise and video producers, will conduct clinics for youth on safe riding practices, safety gear, avalanche precautions and other life-saving skills.

The non-profit society also facilitates a program called the Rider Down Fund that raises money for the Tait family, which has suffered a “huge financial burden they have incurred from the hospital in Boston,” said Wildfong.

“I don’t know the particulars, but I know he had insurance going down and they’re going to have some sort of legal battle with the insurance company. I’m not sure what the final tally was, but it was close to three-quarters of a million dollars.

“Basically we’re trying to accumulate as much money as possible to help out the family because they just took on a giant financial burden by having Darryl stuck in a hospital in Boston for two and a half weeks,” he said.

The fundraising initiative is also getting help from some of the biggest names in snowmobiling.

Dane Fergusson and Corey Davis, both X-Games gold medalists and friends of Tait’s, are donating their X-Games gold medals to the NFSC for an on-line auction during the Winter X-Games in Aspen, Colorado, at the start of the New Year.

Local snowmobiler Ross Mercer, who has held world records for longest snowmobile jump, is auctioning off the team Canada Olympic jersey he wore in his most recent record setting jump, footage of which can be found on YouTube. He is also donating his customized snowmobile panels for the auction.

“The NFSC is going to have an on-line web-store basically where the proceeds will go the coalition, but then we’ll be funneling it towards the Tait family for now,” said Wildfong. “(Mercer, Fergusson and Davis will) donate autographed prints and sell them on-line for 20 bucks, or something like that, and all the proceeds will go to the family.”

X-Games riders will also put Tait recovery fund decals on their mobiles and the coalition will be selling Darryl Tait T-shirts on-line and at events.

In the immediate future Coaster’s Bar and Grill will be holding two fundraiser events, this weekend on Friday and Saturday night starting at 9 p.m., with a minimum donation of five dollars at the door. At the events there will be a silent auction, entertainment provided by local DJ Kill Da DJ and footage of Tait in action.

“We’re going to put together a video reel of things Darryl has done and explain what has happened to him so that people unaware will know,” said Wildfong. “(The video) will be playing throughout the entire evening.

“He was one of our riders for Summitt Savages and for Sub Porn, so he rode with us all last winter and he was one of the best backcountry, freestyle snowmobile riders.”

For those unable to attend this weekend’s fundraising events, donations for the Tait family can be made at Whitehorse’s Canada Trust branch or cheques made out to the Northern Freestyle Snowmobile Coalition can be dropped off at Pizza Hut in downtown Whitehorse.

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com

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