Monday, 12 July 2021 17:58

Redwood candid on past addiction issues, the inspiration that pulled him through dark times

Written by Jeff Robillard, HRA
Tyler Redwood in the barns at Century Downs Tyler Redwood in the barns at Century Downs

"Dad why are you always in the garage? I never get to see you as it is. I want to spend more time with you."

These were the words 10-year-old Parker Redwood asked her father Tyler Redwood after he returned from smoking cannabis in the family garage on a cold dark winter's night in January 2020. These were the words that saved Tyler Redwood's life.

After struggling to answer young Parker's question Tyler returned to the garage. "I broke down. You don't understand — to see my daughter's broken face really hurt. I had a problem. I needed to be there for my family, and I went for help the very next day," explains Tyler.

Tyler was born in Saskatchewan. He is Saulteaux and has always been proud of his ancestry. Indigenous people in Saskatchewan have inhabited the region for thousands of years. Their roots are deep in culture, beliefs are strong and they have learned that adaptation equals survival. Tyler is quick to point out, "With all the racism I experienced as an indigenous person, I simply hated who I was. I hated the daily stigmatism – I hated the very skin that I lived in."

In the early 90's, Tyler got his start in horse racing by grooming and jogging horses. He spent his spare time around horses and was a regular at Queensbury Downs. Robert Baxter let Tyler take his first training mile drive in Moose Jaw behind Catch A Star. Tyler was hooked – and before you knew it, he had his driver license tucked safely in his worn-out leather wallet — and in just his third lifetime drive, he won his first race with Way Out of Bounds. Many people in the racing community believed a promising career had begun. Things seemed to be falling into place for Tyler — or were they?

On September 24, 2012, Tyler's addiction with alcohol and drugs began to take a toll. His voice begins to quiver as he explains, "It was like one in the morning — I jumped on my ATV and started to rip around — I was looking for a fix. I whipped around a corner and slammed head-on into the biggest yellow tractor I have ever seen. I woke up in the hospital, jaw broken in two places, with 13 screws and two steel plates."

To help deal with the pain, he quickly returned to cannabis as a coping mechanism. He went about his business as usual with no one realizing the demons that he was facing daily. What stayed constant in his life for the next six years was his love for training and catch driving. Unfortunately, the addictions knocked Tyler 'off stride' — losing substantial ground in day-to-day life that he just couldn't make up. These setbacks pushed him to go looking for a stronger fix — and he often turned to prescription drugs and cocaine. Many in the racing community believed that Tyler's career was finished for good — no one believed in him and it forced him to leave the industry for the next two years.

The days became longer and harder for Tyler. The mental illness and instability haunted him. He found himself in a very dark place with little hope. He emphasizes, "I was sober for six years. I didn't want to live or feel the way I did — the drugs helped me not feel anything."

Time was not on Tyler's side. "I was struggling with mental illness and I tried to commit suicide three times. I'm not proud of that, but there is a reason why I am here today", explains Tyler.

"Dad why are you always in the garage? I never get to see you as it is. I want to spend more time with you."

With the words of his daughter replaying in his mind — repeating like a bad song that gets stuck in your head — Tyler knew he had to change. His first step was to ask for help — and begin to battle with his addictions head on. Months later, and after an incredible fight, Tyler was clean. With a new lease on life, his familiar driver colours of blue, yellow and white returned to Century Downs. Always smiling and working hard with the horses, the racetrack was his second home. His return to Century Downs was where an incredible bond would form that no one saw coming.

In July of 2020, Super Star Stables (managed by Kurt Belich and Taylor Reed) decided to lease to Tyler and partner Logan Archibald a horse named Star Flight. The horse was racing terribly, and the ownership group had lost hope in the horse.

Picture this — a horse that everyone had given up on was paired with a horseman that many had also given up on. "Star Flight and I were meant to be. I truly believe we were put together for a reason. She was broken — I was broken. We were put together to fix each other, to help each other, to heal each other," Tyler boasts.

From that day forward, Star Flight was instantly referred to as 'his girl'. The two found instant success. In 2020, Star Flight and Tyler posted 7 wins in just over 20 starts. And if that wasn't enough to draw attention, Tyler had a surprising third place catch drive in the Western Canada Pacing Derby with Fully Covered — a feat that really made people sit up and take notice.

In our interview, Tyler sits up and it is clear he wants to make a point, "This all happened for a reason. Mental health problems are an illness, but you can overcome it. Ask for help like I did — don't be embarrassed. I am here to help; I want people to learn from my story. At the race track, people come up to me wanting to talk, looking for help — I will always be there for anyone who needs help — always. People don't fake depression or mental illness; they fake that they are okay."

Tyler has also not forgotten his roots, "I returned (to Cowessess First Nation) and talked to the band elders. Our culture and beliefs are beautiful and are a big part of who I am today." Tyler is now 3 years sober and 19 months drug free.

To date, Tyler has won over 400 races and over 1.6 million in purses. He currently has a modest stable of four horses. On any Alberta race card, his familiar driver colours can been seen at Century Downs, Track On 2 or Century Mile. He shoes 60 to 70 horses a month and puts in very long days. Driving success continues to follow Tyler this year — including his incredible 3 for 3 record in the bike with Miss iTunes for owners Dave Lamont and Donna Wyse.

Away from the track, Tyler is the father of three children — his daughter Parker, 11 and 10-year-old twin brothers Tayvin and Keltin. He has separated from their mother but the two remain good friends. When he speaks of his kids you can't help but notice the smile lighting up his face. Tyler states emphatically, "My kids saved me, and quite simply, I wouldn't be here right now if it wasn't for them."

"Dad why are you always in the garage? I never get to see you as it is. I want to spend more time with you."

Jeff Robillard, Horse Racing Alberta
- Watch for a video feature on Tyler the first week of August

Read 2874 times Last modified on Tuesday, 13 July 2021 15:03