Daniel Semeniuk – A Hero’s Journey

Daniel’s Story

By: Bernardo Barajas-Garrido, OAC Personal Trainer

“The hero’s journey always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, ‘Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.’ And so it starts.” 1

In most eastern traditions, health and fitness practices such as yoga, qigong, and taichi speak of and embrace the trinity Mind-Body-Spirit.  The mind and the body are self-explanatory, they are concrete. The spirit, on the other hand, is harder to define. Sometimes the spirit is confused with the soul, or is considered one and the same. I believe the spirit is the language of the soul, it is the medium the soul uses to manifest.

If you want to understand, to know what spirit means and is, let Daniel`s story speak to you. Daniel is a strong manifestation of the bravest soul that I have encountered. I believe his journey can actually enlighten us to the understanding of ‘spirit’ because, on one fateful, foggy spring night, Daniel’s soul was challenged. And, he accepted the challenge.

Daniel Semeniuk was a bright, good-hearted teen living at home in Deep River. He loved school, writing, sports, and life itself. A true Maple Leafs fan, he played, coached and wrote about the game – hockey was an integral part of his life. He was finishing grade 12, working at a local pharmacy.  His plan was clear, finish high school get into med-school and become a doctor. What he did not know was that life was about to ask something very different from him.

And here, his journey begins.

Daniel Semeniuk portrait

It was a foggy night on May 9, 1997. Dan, his girlfriend, and three friends were leaving a restaurant to go watch a movie at somebody’s house.  The fog was thick.  The driver of their vehicle said that he couldn’t see anything, but he needed to merge from the parking lot into the highway.

I can’t see a thing, should I go?

In that adolescent attitude of immortality and invulnerability, they all made a mocking comment about death.  The driver went ahead… he never saw the approaching truck’s lights hidden in the fog.  A big truck, driven by an intoxicated driver, suddenly appeared and T-boned their car.

In the seconds when Dan saw the lights coming on his side he turned and shielded his girlfriend from the impact.

Lights out. Silence.

… he is not going to make it, we need to pull the plug…

Another voice called

… Dan, you need to go back, I am here to say goodbye…

Almost five months later (and three attempts to unplug him) Dan began to move his right pinky very fast. The wiggling and nodding of his finger was a clear “Here I am”. He woke up from a coma to find that his friend had indeed said goodbye, and that he himself had suffered severe brain damage.

The long journey of recovery began. It has been a long hard road but he has weathered well, he has beaten the odds.

In a span of # years, Daniel went from being bedridden to graduating high school, something his doctors had said he wouldn’t be able to do. He did. He even got his job back at the pharmacy, began coaching a girls’ hockey team, playing sledge hockey and volunteering as much as he could. He went back to writing and had a poem published. “The Patients Journey” was published in an anthology of verse by the title “Island Impressions”.  He bought his home, and in November 2010 he joined the Ottawa Athletic Club and continued rebuilding his life.

It was in 2015 when we met and started to work together.

In the beginning, Dan couldn’t catch objects, squat or coordinate his left and right movements while pushing or pulling simultaneously with both arms. His speech was slurred and his knees were constantly hyperextending. He was nonetheless, happy to be able to do the little he was told he would never be able to do.  Doctors and specialists did not know the strength within Dan.

We were able to get him a wheelchair so that he could move fluidly around the gym floor. Together we push his limits through my training system and approach, a bit of creativity and exploration.  We have done self-defense, boxing, outdoor workouts, weight lifting, mobility drills, and even sword and shield fighting.  At some point we got him a hand crank bike and Dan fell in love with it.

And so, the time for competition began.

We trained for the 2017 5K Army Run (hand crank bike category) and he placed 3rd. Then we did the same race in 2018 and he placed 1st. This year, we are training for the 15K on Sept 22, 2019.

Dan has not only beat the odds – he has gone beyond his doctors’ expectations:

– He was told he would never be able to receive oral instruction about correcting his body position. Done!

– He was told he would never be able to coordinate left and right simultaneously. Done!

– He was told he would never catch objects. Done!

He also was told he would never be able to sustain any cardiovascular effort for long. Done! We have biked (with his arms only) from the OAC to Rideau Falls on Sussex Street and back in less than one hour.

Dan plans to keep beating the odds and achieving success. His journey continues.

As a trainer, working with an athlete like Dan is a humbling experience. A passionate and brave soul that shows an indomitable spirit in a solid fusion with his mind and his body. He is truly only explicable by his whole being. Always forward, never stuck in the past or the “what-could -have-been-if…”

One day I asked him what was his motivation, from where he drove so much strength to keep going where others might have given up.  “God, I owe my life to God.  I am not trying to be a religious freak, but I feel someone wanted me here, I have not finished what I am supposed to do.” he said.

While he admires Superman for what this archetype represents, Dan is much more than any comic-book superhero. Truth is, that under Joseph Campbell’s definition of a hero and his journey, Daniel Semeniuk answered the hero’s call.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”2