SPORTS

Helmet inspires Edney for his first World Cup luge race of the season

12/12/2014 03:26 EST | Updated 02/11/2015 05:59 EST
CALGARY - Sam Edney will wear a helmet that makes him feel "unstoppable" in his first international luge race since the Winter Olympics.

The three-time Olympian will don a helmet designed especially for him by Richard Flamenco when he races at a World Cup event Saturday at his home track in Calgary.

Flamenco has spent much of his 19 years in the Alberta Children's Hospital with an incurable skin disease called Epidermolysis Bullosa. It's a condition that causes painful blistering of fragile skin.

Unable to participate in sports, Flamenco discovered and developed his artistic talents during his time receiving treatments in hospital. He presented Edney with a helmet adorned with a ferocious bear and claws raking the sides of the helmet on Friday.

"The inspiration this helmet is going to be give me on my runs this weekend, I can't explain," Edney said. "I put the helmet on and I immediately feel this power that overcomes me and it's going to be really cool.

"I was actually at his house and watching him meticulously paint this helmet stroke by stroke. It filled me with something I can't describe. It's going to be an emotional weekend, but it's going to be a very powerful weekend where I'm going to feel unstoppable when I have this helmet on."

Flamenco knew Edney liked bears and sea otters, so he started his creative process from those concepts.

"I think I had seven different ideas for this helmet. To really focus and pick one was really hard," Flamenco said.

"The one that really caught my eye — I was at home doing sketches on paper just to see how it might turn out — the one that really caught my eye was the bear kind of chomping on the top and scratching the sides of the helmet."

Edney will wear the helmet in Saturday's race only. It will then be auctioned off on www.helmets4heroes.ca with the proceeds going to the Alberta Children's Hospital.

The foundation is the brainchild of alpine skier Brad Spence, who retired earlier this year after competing for Canada in both the 2010 and 2014 Winter Games.

The 30-year-old raced in Sochi, Russia, in February wearing a helmet designed by Gillian O'Blenes-Kaufman. Spence met the teenager just over a year ago when she was hospitalized with osteosarcoma, which is bone cancer.

"When I wore it in Sochi, it was so much more powerful than the Olympic message itself," Spence said. "I was able to bring her along the journey with me."

O'Blenes-Kaufman died Monday in Calgary at the age of 18. Spence will attend her funeral Saturday.

He had gifted the helmet back to O'Blenes-Kaufman as a wedding present before her death. He began thinking he could turn their experience into something more.

"Her smile is something I'll never forget," Spence said. "I realized this is a unique opportunity for me to give back to the community around me beyond sport.

"It was an opportunity to connect athletes to the community on such a personal level and create strong bonds between the athlete and the child battling something.

"For me the focus was on the children and providing them a long-term positive goal to look forward to and hopefully give them a little hope during a tremendously difficult period of their life."

Spence is in the middle of an intensive year-long Bachelor of Commerce program at Royal Roads University, but felt he couldn't wait to launch the project.

In addition to individual causes like the children's hospital, he'd like to see money raised by Helmets For Heroes to eventually tie into helmet safety and concussion awareness.

"By the 2018 Olympics, I'd love to see an athlete from every helmet-wearing sport have a Canadian representative for Helmets For Heroes," Spence said.

"I've love to grow this thing internationally and start looking at other sports and even tying in the military. There's lots of helmets there. I see some really unique parallels between a project like Helmets Four Heroes and the heroes are the Canadian military."

Edney and his Canadian teammates finished agonizingly close to an Olympic medal in the new relay event in Sochi, but settled for fourth. The 30-year-old Calgarian placed 11th in men's singles.

A sports hernia kept Edney out of the first two World Cup races this season, so his first will be Saturday at Canada Olympic Park.

The helmet was unveiled and Helmets Four Heroes was launched by Flamenco, Edney and Spence at an outdoor news conference beside the gourmet grocery store where Edney works in the summer.

Flamenco intends to be at Saturday's race. He'll looked forward to feeling part of an international sports event.

"When I was young, I always watched baseball games and hockey games and all my friends at school would always go out after school and play soccer in the field or even during recess. I would never be able to play those games," he said. "When I was in the hospital . . . the thing I always ended up doing was doodling, drawing, sketching and I always just found that was my happy place when I was in the hospital.

"When I found out these guys wanted me to design something for a sport, yes definitely, I guess I am part of a sport in a certain way."

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