CANMORE – Last August, Mathew Szymanowski’s life changed forever.
Szymanowski, who goes by “Shim,” is an accomplished rower and cyclist at the University of Victoria.
While out for an evening cycle in Victoria, the then 23-year-old was struck by a vehicle and suffered a spinal cord injury, resulting in paralysis from the neck down.
News of the accident spread quickly throughout the close-knit rowing and cycling communities in Victoria.
Szymanowski spent the following two weeks in intensive care and another five weeks at Victoria General Hospital.
The Kitchener, Ont. native has since relocated to his home province to be closer to family during his rehabilitation process. With the aid of a power wheelchair and family support he is able to live on his own at a care facility.
“Shim was the guy to set the standard for everything, be it athletic or academic, he knew how to balance things and I looked up to him because of that,” said former teammate/roommate of Shim’s, and Canmore local, Dylan Dalgas.
“It’s incredible, through all of this, he has maintained who he is,” Dalgas added about Shim’s competitive spirit and willpower.
In addition to ongoing physiotherapy, Shim’s next step in recovery will require extensive costs with additional treatment options and travel expenses.
"I am focused on gaing my independence back. That is what I am working towards and the support I have recieved from friends and family has really helped me to achive that goal," said Szymanowski.
Shim is hoping to receive the same procedure that Humbolt Bronco Ryan Straschnitzki underwent in Thailand after becoming paralyzed in a 2018 bus crash. The epidural stimulation treatment has allowed some movement in Straschnitzki’s legs.
Shim said he is excited about the prospect of regaining motor control of his legs and even the possibility of standing once again.
The cost and expenses associated with the treatment could be up to $150,000.
“I’m no scientist, but the progress that has been made by people who have received this treatment is inspiring, and I know Shim is really hopeful about it.” Dalgas said.
A trio of close mutual friends Cole Glover, Nick Monette and Sam Horn came up with the ambitious plan to ride the more than 500-km long Great Trail on Vancouver Island in 24 hours, as a way to help fundraise for the treatment in Thailand.
“I would have liked to have been there to join them, but since I am here I decided to piggyback off their efforts and do my own ride for Shim out here,” Dalgas said. “These long rides are a direct reflection to what Shim has encouraged in me and many others through his great display of fortitude, in both rowing and cycling.”
Donning “Shim’s Ride” cycling jerseys, the trio completed its arduous journey on Saturday (July 25), while Dalgas took on a lengthy ride through the Bow Valley.
"The amount of support I have recieved has just been overwhelming. I am really lucky to have such thoughtful friends and It's tough to put into words how thankful I am," said Shim.
Dalgas set out by cooly completing 11 laps of Silvertip Trail before setting out to Lake Louise and Moraine Lake before returning to Canmore via Sulphur, Norquay and Tunnel Mountain, in Banff. In total, he cycled 320 km and gained a total of 5,431m in elevation in just over 12 hours.
“It was the biggest day in the saddle I’ve experienced. It was a day that was all about honouring Shim,” Dalgas said. “Considering what Shim is going through, I knew I could push myself because that’s what he would do.”
A GoFundMe page was set up after the accident and has reached over $110,000. Donations can be made at ShimsRide.ca.