Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kenny Reardon: A true and brave Canadien

FOR THE YOUNGER generation, the name Kenny Reardon might not mean much. Perhaps, some might associate the name with hockey. And they'd be right.
According to Montreal Gazette columnist Red Fisher, Reardon was certainly a "fearless, rushing and crushing defenceman" in the 1940s with the NHL Canadiens.
In addition, the tough man for the defence, even went overseas and distinguished himself by being awarded the Field Marshall Montgomery's Certificate of Merit for bravery.
Later, he would become a respected club executive -- a man who carried himself with distinction on and off the ice.
So it was a shock when learning about his death at age 86 and the reason for it. For, you see, Reardon had the incurable disease, Alzheimer's, known in most circles as dementia.
Reardon like others before him had been devastated by the disease as I have detailed in past columns.
Even last May, I related that it has affected not only aging former athletes, but the younger generation.
If you'll indulge me, I'll repeat a number of paragraphs from a 2007 column:
"Ted Johnson has all the symptoms: Depression, dizziness, excessive drowsiness, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, poor concentration, ringing in the ears, acute sensitivity to noise. And he's only 34 years old and slowly the memory and the mind of the former New England Patriots' linebacker may be vanishing.
"He's almost a poster boy for an oft-dismissed disease and its advance stage known as Alzheimer's, which can claim not only the young, as Johnson happens to be, but stretches into those in advanced years, often blatantly tagged as "the Golden Years."
Actually, the above paragraphs were the essence of a lengthy article by Jackie MacMullan of the Boston Globe, who painted a sad portrait of a once-great athlete, who was felled by severe periods of stark depression.
Johnson, himself, has attributed his crippling disease to "concussions" which he numbers close to 30. That figure startled someone, who has only suffered a half dozen concussions.
However, non-athletes have also been ravished by dementia and Alzheimer's.
When trying to track down the disease, there was a report that about 23,000 Americans die from it annually. And athletes, who had suffered a series of concussions and head traumas, weren't the only ones to be relegated to the "sidelines," and these included some of the best and the brightest.
Of course, the final years of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan were sad, indeed. An also actress Rita Hayworth, the fiery performer from the 1940s, deteriorated and her affliction wasn't properly diagnosed until 1980. She died in 1987 at the age of 87.
Remember Burgess Meredith, the actor who growled his way to fame as 'The Penguin' and even later in the 1995 'Grumpier Old Men'? He died from Alzheimer's in 1997.
The sports realm, of course, has been most susceptible with every one from famed college and NFL head coach Tom Fears, major-league baseball star Mickey Owen, and, of course, Sugar Ray Robinson, one of all-time greats in the boxing ring, being victims.
While the Alzheimer's-related death of Kenny Reardon came as a shock to older hockey fans, the life of Vernon-area resident, Keith Vinden, has been an inspiration to the survivors of this dreaded illness.
Although the former teacher and principal could sink into deep depression, he maintains a great sense of humour and it showed with such gems as: "I met a guy in the gym this morning. He says, "Hi Keith, how ya doing?" "Great! Say, I don't think we've met before. My name's Keith." I make more new friends this way."
MYTH CONCEPTIONS (From Uncle John's Bathroom Reader): Fortune cookies were invented in China. Truth: They were invented in the U.S. in 1918 by Charles Jung, a Chinese restaurant owner, to amuse customers while they waited for their food. Only later were they served after the meal.

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