Tyler Redwood will never forget the dark, horrific evening of Sept. 24 2012 - the hideous night that changed everything.
At one o’clock in the morning - having, as was his wont at the time, consumed far too much alcohol - Redwood crashed an all-terrain vehicle - it’s headlights not even turned on - into a big yellow tractor in a field outside of Regina’s West Meadows racetrack. The next morning he woke up in a hospital with his face all but unrecognizable and unable to talk.
“I was a severe alcoholic at the time. I had been drinking since I was 11; I had my first alcoholic blackout when I was 13,” said Redwood, 33, an Alberta harness trainer/driver, who had to have his jaw wired with two steel plates and 12 screws. “That was the day I stopped drinking; I’ve been sober ever since.”
“By all rights I should have been either paralyzed or dead,” said Redwood, 33, who for 31 days ate through a straw including a Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and mashed potatoes that his wife, Jennifer, had liquified in a blender.
Redwood had only been married for a year before that horrible accident; his wife had recently delivered his baby girl, Parker, and was pregnant with twin boys, Tayvin and Keltin. “My wife gave me an ultimatum. I either had to quit drinking and living the life I was living -which was almost like a double life - or she was going to leave me.” Put that way the decision, albeit extremely difficult, was painfully clear.
“I had to make the right choice,” said Redwood. “If I hadn’t chosen sobriety I would have lost my family and I probably would have either been on the street, locked-up or dead. “I obviously didn’t like the other alternatives. “It was the only choice I could make. To see my beautiful kids grow up - and see myself grow up - are the best feelings I’ve ever had. “I’m glad I overcame my (disease) so my kids never had to see the person I used to be when I used to drink and party.
“Jennifer has been my rock standing strong through all of it.” So has his dad, Kelvin. “He always stood by me. He wasn’t an alcoholic, but, to give me the extra strength I needed to be healthy again, he quit drinking as well. “Between my wife and my dad they gave me the moral support to become healthy. They both wanted me to succeed. “I thought it would be easier. But it hasn’t although now I have better tools to deal with it. Still, every day is a battle.
“To live clean and sober is a struggle. The craving is still tremendous. “There is always something in the world that will try and pinch and poke and try and turn me back to those days where every thing went wrong.” Like many athletes - and non athletes - sports professional drink to celebrate the good days and they drink to try and forget the bad ones. “The highs and lows of this business, horse racing, want you to fall back into the hands of those demons. It’s an escape from reality,” said Redwood.
“After the races were over we’d almost always have an ice-cold beer. We’d talk about what went wrong and what went right. I can’t do that anymore. Now, when the races are over, I do my chores and go home.” “I regularly attend AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings. And I always have somebody to phone when I need to stay upright with my battle with the addiction if I do feel down and out. And I do my daily readings.”
Home, where his wife and kids live, is Olds, Alberta which is only a 45-minute drive from Balzac’s Century Downs racetrack. “The Olds Agricultural Society also has a nice little facility with barns and an all-weather track; it’s where I do all my training when we are racing at Century Downs.” But with the races currently in Edmonton he now lives in a hotel with his dad about five minutes from the Northlands Park racetrack.
Jennifer visits with their children every couple of weeks while Kelvin helps train their small stable of four horses that currently consists of one bottom claimer, one optional claimer, one conditional claimer and the stable star, Red Star Katrina, who has a win, two seconds and two thirds in her last five starts.
“Dad is the one who got me started in the business. He was a taxi driver and him and some of his cab-driving buddies in Saskatchewan, where I grew up, used to own bits and pieces of some harness horses. They'd hang together and take me to the barn. Going to the barn used to be like a second babysitter. “The first time I went with my dad and his friends I was hooked. I was just fascinated by the animals. How large they were and how beautiful they were.
“I was the one who took it somewhere else: into a full-fledged career,” who is off to a great start at Northlands with 10 wins from 54 drives. “As bad as it sounds, that’s more wins than I had all of last year.” Redwood claimed Red Star Katrina for $12,500 for owner Ken Hanson from J.F. Gagne’s barn.
“She’s won about $16-18,000 for us. At first I thought she was going to be a dud. But once I made a few equipment changes and got her rigging figured out she became a whole new horse,” said Redwood, who has Red Star Katrina entered in this Saturday’s Open mares pace where she will face the likes of Tajmeallover, the 4-5 favourite who has won seven of her last eight starts. “Maybe one of these days I can knock Tajmeallover over. But she’s tough and getting better all the time.”
Third last week, Red Star Katrina won her previous start by three lengths after coming first-over. “I felt I had the best horse in the race that day and that’s the way I drove her. I let her roll at her own pace and as the mile continued she got stronger.” While Redwood has excelled with just about every horse he has ever claimed, like every horseman he is still looking for the ‘big’ horse: “A horse that can define who you are. You sit and you wait for that one.
“Mr. Hanson is a new owner for me. He’s looking to find another horse like Red Star Katrina - but on the male side.” His other owners are Don and Brenda McNeil. “I never thought of getting rich doing what I’m doing; I just always wanted to provide a living from it.” With a small stable - “I’d like to have about four more” - and only making money when they and the catch drives he gets do well, Redwood says there is always pressure to try and win. “But that’s something I try to keep in the back of my mind. I just go out there and do what comes naturally to me. And, I’m trying to be more aggressive which is paying off.
“Things are getting better for me every day. You just have to fall into the right horses: whether it’s horses I train or horses I drive.” Known as a hard worker, Redwood said he is just trying to emulate his father’s work ethic “who worked long hours to feed 12 of us. To supplement his stable and catch-drive earnings, Redwood is a self-taught blacksmith, who shoes upwards of 50 horses in a two-week cycle when racing is going for than just the current once-a-week schedule.
“I’ve been told I do a good job,” said Redwood, who presently shoes around 25 head in that two-week cycle. “With the frozen track, most horses need new shoes - especially new corks - about once every week. “It’s a way to make a few extra dollars to put food on the table for my family,” said Redwood, whose mother, whom he is no longer is in contact with, was also an alcoholic.
Writing his trainer’s exam in Saskatchewan the day after his 16th birthday - the first day he was eligible to take the test - Redwood was that province’s leading driver of the year three times (2009, 2011 and 2012) and was also the Saskatchewan Standardbred Horsemen’s Association’s top trainer in 2012. But then Saskatchewan closed it’s doors to harness racing in 2014 so Redwood, who was campaigning over 20 horses at the time, headed to Alberta full time.
“My wife and I decided to give it a one-year shot in Alberta and I’ve been here ever since. Even before they shut down harness racing completely - outside three or four fair days - they were only racing three-to-four months a year. It wasn’t enough to make a living. “When they weren’t racing I worked for a feed company - Masterfeeds - worked in hotels, as a roofer… anything that would keep the house going. Again, just like my dad did.”
The ATV accident - by far the worst - wasn’t Redwood’s only accident - he was also involved in racetrack spills the last three years. Two years ago at Century Downs, Redwood tore ligaments in his left leg when the horse he was driving, Karate King, crossed its legs and fell. “I tried to jump free but my leg got caught behind the sulky’s shaft and gaiting strap,” said Redwood, who was out of action for a month. “I bent my leg in a way I didn’t know it could bend. I thought I had snapped it for sure.
“All I could do was lay and scream in pain and hold on to the horse’s back leg from kicking me in the head until help came.” Last year he was in another spill but this one looked worse than it was. “The horse I was driving was making just his second lifetime start. He put in a few steps, then he felt like he was going to run. I yelled ‘Look out,’ three times. I was thrown into the air. I tried to avoid landing where I was going to get run over but I got hit from behind. I ended up landing on my head and was knocked out. Then another horse ran over the top of my legs. “I was sure I had broke my back or my leg or something. But I walked away and was able to drive the next weekend. The head nurse at the hospital couldn’t believe I was able to go home the same day.”
Three years ago at Northlands Redwood was in another spill. “I was lucky again that time too. My horse and another one hooked wheels. Again I was shot up in the air. I jarred my hip pretty good but I wasn’t hurt enough that I couldn’t fulfill my duties.”
As for at ATV accident that converted his life Redwood said in some ways it might have been a good thing. “It got me to quit drinking. It was life altering. God only knows where things would have led to if it hadn’t happened. It was rock bottom. And if it wasn’t it helped me to get there. “I’m only 33 but I’ve lived through a lot already,” said Redwood, a guy who you’d love to see continue to succeed in harness racing and in life and a guy you can unabashedly cheer for.
“Alcohol was my coping mechanism. Drink, pass out and forget about it all. Until the next day of course. Then it’s still there and you continue to do the same thing. “Somebody looked over me to pull me through. A lot of it was my wife. A lot was my dad and a lot is my support system. “Now I know that I’m not alone and I’m not the only one with this problem.
“September 24, 2012. That’s a day I’ll never forget.”
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