Ticats’ Peter Dyakowski has brains and brawn by Bruce Arthur
VANCOUVER—Peter Dyakowski lay in the bed his teammates had carried into the cluttered ground-level office in his house, because his knee was still immobilized after the surgery and he couldn’t climb the stairs. He was having trouble breathing, a lot of trouble. The pain in his back was searing enough that he barely paid attention to the knee, propped up on a pile of pillows. He lay in the dark, staring at his phone. He knew what was wrong, he figured. He lay there, like an idiot.
“I didn’t want to be rude and wake everyone up in the middle of the night,? said the Hamilton Tiger-Cats offensive lineman, who will play his second game of the season in the Grey Cup against Calgary Sunday. “I didn’t want to wake up my wife, and our head trainer, because she had the (team) minivan keys. I didn’t want to make a scene.
“So I just laid there terrified for three hours. I contemplated infinity, and all that. Yeah. It was pretty terrifying. I probably should have called 9-1-1.?
Peter Dyakowski is known for a couple things. One, he’s an all-star calibre guard for Hamilton. Two, he’s smart. Teammate Brian Simmons says that when things used to break at the old Ivor Wynne stadium — the team shower, the sauna, anything electric — they got Peter to fix it. Dyakowski won the CBC reality show Canada’s Smartest Person last year, won it by a mile, dusting competitors who included a molecular biologist and a theoretical quantum chemist. He reigned until a new champion was crowned Sunday night.
“Yeah, I had to pass the diamond tiara along,? Dyakowski says with his eternally bright, boyish grin.
But that night, he was dumb. His then-fiancée Rachel was pretty clear on that, later. She came downstairs and she looked at his face, and she knew something was wrong. He was serious. Peter was never that serious. She asked why he didn’t call an ambulance.
“He said, ‘I didn’t want the neighbours to see,’ ? Rachel says. “My best friend is a nurse in critical care, and she told me, ‘Do you know how many people die every year because they don’t want the neighbours to see?’
“He could have just yelled upstairs that he needed to go to a hospital, like a normal person.?
It had been 12 days since the worst game of his life. Just before halftime of an already-out-of-control Grey Cup in Regina against Saskatchewan, Dyakowski was pushing hard against a fellow earthmover when someone fell into the back of his knee, and his patella tendon tore. In the stands a Rider fan yelled, approximately, “Roll him in a f------ ditch and get him off the field,? and Rachel, sitting with Dyakowski’s father a few seats away, had to be held back from going after the guy, who was forced by other fans to apologize.
Meanwhile, Dyakowski spent the second half watching Saskatchewan run away, surrounded by over 30,000 swaying, ecstatic fans in green.
“When I was inside I heard the call for our touchdown at the start of the third quarter, so I thought maybe we were going to pull it off, and I wanted to go watch,? the 30-year-old Dyakowski says. “And then I was just stuck on their sideline, out there for their celebration, that green tornado, the whole time. The whole fourth quarter. Miserable.?
He had surgery four days after getting home, and was laid up in his office — “I lived in my office. I was like Howard Hughes for a couple months,? he says — and nothing felt normal. He was on painkillers. He and Rachel were trying out readings for their January wedding, and something was wrong. He couldn’t finish a sentence. He tried to ignore, and ignore the pain in his back, until it shot up to a 10 in the middle of the night.
“I was trying to sleep and I couldn’t, and I was Googling my symptoms,? says Dyakowski. “You know what? It was probably one of the first time someone Googled the correct symptoms. It’s a favourite of hypochondriacs to look up whatever crazy thing, and it tells you you have Hungarian whooping cough or something.?
It was blood clot in his leg and a pulmonary embolism in his right lung, which had collapsed. After Rachel found him they called Carly Vandergrient, the team’s trainer, who picked him up in the team van, because he couldn’t fit in a car with his leg in a brace.
In the hospital he was whisked in — “the trick, if you ever go to the hospital, is tell them you’re having problems breathing, and they’ll take care of you right away,? he says — and tried to ask questions about how treatable it would be to keep Rachel calm, even though he was freaking out inside. (“I was freaking out regardless,? says Rachel.)
They put him on blood thinners, kept him in hospital, got him through the danger zone. Rachel had to inject him in the stomach with blood thinners, for a while. He was okay. He made it. (He wants to thank the people at Hamilton General, especially the Thrombosis Clinic, and especially Marlene.) He didn’t have to be as serious anymore.
“I got off crutches a week before the wedding, and I had a cane for the wedding. I really wanted to get off the crutches,? Dyakowski says. “It was a very stylish, snazzy cane. I think it came from Shopper’s Drug Mart. To my horror, I show up at the font, there’s Rachel’s grandfather, exact same cane. A simple phone call could have avoided that type of faux pas, because I’m pretty sure he had more than one. Exact same cane. Pretty embarrassing.?
Hamilton equipment manager Drew Strohschein tied cans to a wheelchair, and Dyakowski’s fellow offensive linemen pushed him around the dance floor, and after that he started working his way back. They told him the rehab would take 12 months, and he took enormous pride in playing on PATs and field goals in the East final against Montreal, 364 days after he got hurt, 20 pounds lighter, joking around, feeling great. He’s so happy to be here, in his hometown. He should be.
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I'm a big fan of Steve Milton, Stephen Brunt, and Damien Cox, but I think that right now Bruce Arthur is the best sports writer in the country.