TSN25: Remembering those we have lost in the last 25 years

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TSN.ca Staff
9/8/2009 2:53:31 PM
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It was an afternoon of racing that many wish they hadn't taken in.

A young Canadian driver, who seemed en route to become a champion, lost right before our eyes.

For better or worse, athletic competition evokes a multitude of emotions and we are forever linked to the players and coaches that take the field of play in the name of sportsmanship.

While two decades is a long time for a round-the-clock sports station to broadcast, for some people 25 years is a lifetime.

Greg Moore

In 1999, Greg Moore was in his fourth season as a member of the Player's Forsythe Racing team.

His debut campaign on the CART circuit in 1996 saw him named runner up for the Rookie of the Year award.
 
As a sophomore, he became the youngest driver in CART history to win a race at the age of 22, when he captured the checkered flag at the Milwaukee Mile, ultimately finishing seventh in the standings that year. The following season, the New Westminster, B.C. native took home two victories at Rio de Janeiro and the U.S. 500, ending 1998 fifth in the championship standings.

Moore took yet another step in his promising career when he began 1999 with a victory in the season-opening race in Miami; little did he know it would be his last.

On October 31, 1999 during the 10th lap of the Marlboro 500, Moore lost control of his car, sending it skidding across the infield grass and colliding with a wall, ultimately taking the young driver's life. He was 24.

"I lost one of the best friends I ever had in Greg Moore," said Dario Franchitti in the months after the accident. "In the last couple of years, ever since I've known him, we shared a lot of good times together. He was the guy I competed the hardest with on the track, and he was the guy I had the most fun with away from the track. The guy was going to be a champion, many, many times over."

CART retired Moore's car number, 99, and an award was established in his honour. Each year the Greg Moore Legacy award is given to the driver who best exemplifies Moore's abilities on the track, combined with a dynamic personality that engages fans, media and all those within the CART community.

The horrifying crash is an unwanted sequence etched into the memories of anyone who watched the race or has seen the footage, making Moore's death one of the most memorable in recent history, but Moore is not the only Canadian athlete to be taken from us at a young age.

Sandra Schmirler

During a seven-year span from 1991 to 1997, Sandra Schmirler did something no one had ever accomplished in the world of women's curling, bringing home three Canadian Curling Championships and three World Curling Championships.

If that wasn't enough, in 1998 she went on to capture gold at the Winter Olympics, the first time curling was a medal event, only adding to her long list of accomplishments in the sport.

In 1999, while giving birth to her second child, Schmirler encountered a variety of health problems. Doctors performed addition tests, leading to a startling discovery. She was diagnosed with cancer.

While still engaged in a battle with the illness, Schmirler worked as a colour commentator during the 2000 Canadian National Junior Curling Championships, but her condition was getting worse and doctors were unable to prevent the disease from spreading.

When she was admitted into the hospital, she released a statement, which was read by TSN's Vic Rauter.

"I'm still fighting hard and I still hope to make it to the Brier, not playing but talking. For Saskatchewan, I was hoping to be in your green shoes (at the Scott). But keep things in perspective. There are other things in life besides curling, which I have found. But I hope to be on the curling trail again next year. And I'll see you all in Sudbury (the next Scott site) in 2001. Your curling friend, Sandra"

Despite the hope in her address, Schmirler was unable to overcome the deadly illness. She passed away on March 3, 2000. She was 36.

The effect her death had on the country was obvious, reaching all the way up to then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who released a statement to the nation.

"All Canadians have been touched by the untimely death of Sandra Schmirler. Most of us came to know her through her exploits as a champion curler and as an exemplary sports ambassador for Canada. But what really set her apart was her bright, engaging personality and her incredible zest for life, qualities that were so clearly in evidence as she fought so valiantly against her illness. She will be sorely missed."

TSN aired a live broadcast of her funeral, and made the signal available any other station that wanted to show the service.

In 2005, when her team was inducted into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, Schmirler was not there to celebrate the honour with them.

"I think the big thought that always goes through my mind is that Sandra isn't here to share in our experience and our sense of accomplishment," former teammate Marcia Gudereit told the Canadian Press at the induction ceremony.

In her memory, the Sandra Schmirler Foundation was established in 2001 to raise funds for neonatal care across Canada.

Dan Snyder

Heading into the 2003-2004 season, Dan Snyder had just undergone ankle surgery in early September, which would have forced him to start his second year with the Atlanta Thrashers on the injured list.

On September 29, 2003, prior to the beginning of the NHL season, Snyder climbed into, teammate and friend, Dany Heatley's Ferrari 360 Modena, unaware tragedy was about to strike.

Police reports said Heatley was driving nearly double the maximum speed limit down a narrow two-lane road when he lost control of his vehicle. The car smashed into a brick pillar and iron fence, splitting in two and ejecting his passenger, Snyder.

While Heatley was able to overcome the wounds he sustained in the crash, Snyder was not as lucky. Unable to regain consciousness due to massive brain injuries, six days after that terrible night, on October 3, Snyder was pronounced dead. He was 25.

"As a parent, it's hard to explain how you feel about losing your son. My pride in Dan was immeasurable," said Snyder's father Graham following the accident.

In what was viewed as a surprising move by many outsiders, Snyder's family stood behind Heatley after the accident.

"I know [Heatley] never intended for this to happen," Graham Snyder stated. "I don't want to see my friend go to prison; I know Dan would feel the same way."

"We will all miss him. So how do we move on from here?" asked his grief-stricken father. "Forgiveness in out hearts has helped us move on. We forgive because Dany has shown remorse to his family."

Heatley was sentenced to three years probation, and was forced to give a minimum of 150 speeches covering the dangers of reckless driving. Any future vehicle owned by the NHLer had to be approved by the court and had to be modified so that it could not exceed 112 km/h.

In his memory, Snyder's parents established the Dan Snyder Memorial Foundation, dedicated to providing scholarship opportunities to young athletes, to assist in the pursuit of their goals.

Luc Bourdon

After being drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, 10th overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, it appeared as though Luc Bourdon was on the verge of becoming another skilled Canadian defender in the NHL.

The promising young defenceman was a part of Canada's gold-medal winning squads in the 2006 and 2007 World Junior Hockey Championships.

Bourdon, a native of Shippagan, New Brunswick, played his junior hockey with the Moncton Wildcats, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Val d'Or Foreurs of the QMJHL. He split his first pro season in 2007-08 between Vancouver and the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose.

However, in a cruel twist of fate on May 29, 2008, before he had the chance to deliver on his NHL-caliber talent, Bourdon was killed when his motorcycle hit head-on with a tractor-trailer in Lameque, New Brunswick, 10-minutes away from his hometown. He was 21.

"He was a great player who was going to be a big part of the Canucks' future. It's just a terrible tragedy," said Canucks' defenceman Aaron Miller to the TEAM 1040 Radio in Vancouver just after the accident. "He was a great kid with a promising career. My heart goes out to his family."

During the 2008-2009 season, the Canucks paid tribute to Bourdon with a pre-game ceremony prior to the first game of the season. The team also donned "LB" on their helmets for the entire year in memory of their fallen teammate.

Over any 25-year period in history, dealing with death is inevitable, but it's hard to deny the feeling that the athletes mentioned above went well before their time.

Since TSN's inception, we have witnessed the loss of other members of the sports world such as prominent NHL figures like Maurice "Rocket" Richard, Jacques Plante, Carl Brewer, Sam Pollock, Roger Neilson, and Hector "Toe" Blake to name a few.

We have seen CFL greats remembered like Annis Stukus, Ralph Sazio, Jake Gaudaur, Bob Ackles, Ron Lancaster, and most recently Sam Etcheverry.

There are also the names that may not seem as familiar to the general fan.

Ethel Catherwood, who passed away in 1987, was a part of the first Canadian women's Olympic team. Regina's Mary "Bonnie" Baker, who died in 2003, made her mark as a member of the All American Girls Baseball League and is believed to be the inspiration for Geena Davis' character Dottie Hinson, in the film A League of their Own. Or Ray Lewis, who was also lost in 2003 at the age of 93, was Canada's first Canadian-born black Olympic medalist, as part of the bronze-medal winning 4x400-metre relay team at the 1932 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, California. 

We honour and give thanks to these inspirational sports figures and all of those who have passed on during the last 25 years, for allowing us the opportunity to watch as they honed their craft in front of the entire country, and at times, the world. Their contributions to the Canadian sports landscape are endless, and they will be remembered always.

Greg Moore (Photo: David Taylor/Getty Images)

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(Photo: David Taylor/Getty Images)
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