By CODY PETERS
It happened late one night at a retail store where I was working. We were running behind and I was trying to catch up.
I was in a cooler organizing big boxes of produce. I had been doing this job for a year and never had an issue. That night, I had nearly moved all the boxes. Then I reached over to grab a heavy box, yanked on it, and searing pain started in my lower back.
I’d lifted heavier boxes, worked harder, and often pushed myself to my limit, but this simple movement of picking something up the wrong way changed everything.
When the doctor told me what had happened, my voice trembled and I muttered “no f–ing way.”
I had blown four disks in my lower spine. I was 21.
Until then, I knew where I was going. Suddenly I was on a new road without a map.
My Mom is a French teacher. My Dad is a painter.
When my Mom would supply teach and money was tight they couldn’t afford to send me to a babysitter. So I would go to job sites with my Dad. I didn’t have much to occupy me when I was there other than colouring books, my imagination, and watching people work.
Trade work always fascinated me. When Dad and I would get to the job site he would bring me into a room that had exposed drywall, crack-fill over every crease, and no trim.
It wouldn’t take him long to start slapping colour on the walls. I watched these drab rooms change before my eyes. The next day that room would be complete with all the trim, ready to live in.
I admired what they did with their hands, starting from nothing and making something beautiful. They were people with a real work ethic. These guys would be there rain or shine, early morning or late at night.
I always wanted to be that guy when I grew up. The one that did anything he could to make ends meet for his family. The one that came home after a long day of work, sat down with a beer and relaxed, because he earned that right. I wanted to know that everything I had was because I worked my guts out for it.
As soon as I got out of high school I did just that. I worked fast food. I was a cashier at a gas station, general labourer, and stock boy at a retail store. I grabbed whatever work I could get. I didn’t have to ask anyone for anything. I made my own ends meet.
The doctor told he was going to put a worker’s compensation claim in for the injury, and told me I’d be off work for the better part of a year.
This was the first time in my life I felt completely lost. I didn’t know what I was going to do, I felt useless. I felt hopeless. Not only was there the physical pain, which was excruciating, but the mental pain was almost worse.
I had my life planned. That fall I was going to college to pursue my passion for working on vehicles. I had loved cars from the first day I got my license.
I always liked cars when I was a kid. I would sit in the living room with Dad on Saturday mornings watching car shows until noon. When I was 17 I got my unrestricted license; at this moment, this is when my real passion for cars took off. I’ve never owned anything fast, just family sedans, but I’ve never needed the speed of a car to appreciate them. I feel at peace with everything when I get behind the wheel and go for a drive. Still to this day cars give me freedom.
In my twenties, all my friends that I spent time with were into cars. If we weren’t driving them, breaking them, or working on them, we were sitting around somewhere talking about them.
During the summer a group of us would get together every night at the Canadian Tire gas bar parking lot. It didn’t matter what day of the week it was, or what the weather was like, there was someone up there. We would stand around till all hours of the night, sometimes we left as the sun was coming up. I had never felt more close to people than when we were up there talking.
We didn’t always talk about cars. We became close friends and would talk about problems that we couldn’t talk to anyone else about. We became an outcast family.
For about a year I had been convincing myself to go to the college and sign up for a mechanics program. Now I was regretting not doing it before I got hurt.
I couldn’t do the work that I used too. I knew that doing mechanic work for the rest of my life was out of the question. I had to think of something I could do that in the long-term, wouldn’t be physically demanding. This stumped me for almost a year.
Finally, I decided university seemed like the next logical step. It wasn’t physical, but it would be mentally challenging, and I needed a challenge in my life. I wasn’t that great of a student, but I figured I could cut it in academia for a while at least.
I went in with the intentions of getting a psychology degree. That was a wasted year.
I was discouraged again. I didn’t want to go back. Why would I want to subject myself to something that I didn’t want to do, like university? I tried to go back to work, and I could do physical labour again, but it was hard. Every I was in pain.
Late one night in June we were at the gas bar, it was after 12 because the lights had gone out. We were getting into talks about life. We all felt lost and didn’t know what the next step into our futures would be.
During the conversation, a friend told me that I had a way with words. I didn’t think anything of it, shrugged it off and carried on with the conversation. Everyone knew my situation, about my injury and my love of cars. They knew that I still wanted to do something in the industry. One guy said I should be a journalist and quickly ran to his car to pull out a magazine. He said that I could write articles like the ones he had been reading.
Not once had this crossed my mind. I was never a good writer. I didn’t do much reading, and I never paid attention to the news. Months later I realized that these guys chatting casually and coming up with random ideas would set me on the path to getting a university degree.
Automotive journalism was my way of keeping connected to my greatest passion. It was completely on the other side of what I wanted to do, but I could be close to what I’ve always been involved in.
Going in to journalism I had no idea what to expect or what I was doing. I hadn’t written an article before, I hadn’t even written a short essay in a little over a year. I was scared, worried, and unsure if this was the right path for me.
It took months for me to get feel comfortable enough to write about cars. It took me a long time to even feel comfortable with my writing.
It wasn’t until the second semester that I found a passion for telling stories. was interacting with people through words, video, and audio. I always wanted to see my work come to fruition in a physical form and now that was happening.
I’m now in my fourth year of university. I’m about to graduate with a double major in journalism and communications. I no longer want to write about cars, and I’m not sure I want to do journalism. But this passion I found for writing and expressing myself has spread into the rest of my university education.
It took me three years of school to finally not care about what happened in the past. I’m finally embracing what is ahead in my future. Soon I’ll be a graduate with skills that can be applied in almost any field I want to pursue. For once in my life I finally have found a peace deep down that I’ve never had before.
I’m not doing the physical work I wanted to do, but I am where I am and I’ve worked hard to get here. I’m content with that. I’m making something that I can take pride in, that people can appreciate.
I see myself as a tradesman. Who knew I’d end up doing it with my mind instead of my hands.