He nervously swirls his glass: “I’m out of my comfort zone.”
Sean Bridge has a calming demeanour about him; if the strong silent type still exists, he’s it. His story is a difficult one to tell, but he’s trying.
His answers begin short and to the point. Occupation? “Deckhand”.
As his shoulders loosen, his words begin to paint vivid pictures of a life working on the water, reaching down from barges with a pike pole, hooking up tugboats to tow loads of every kind. Navigating massive cables and lines while radioing directions to coerce a 60’ tugboat into maneuvering a barge the size of a small football field.
The job feels heavy, even as he passionately describes his days and nights on the water amidst the beautiful backdrop of the coast’s ever-changing scenery.
Maybe the weight comes from knowing how the story unfolds. Sean’s getting ready to open up about enduring years of physical rehab, surgeries and physio blanketed in a mental battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
He’s about to point out the physical remnants of his incident, where skin grafts and metal plates will forever mark his body, and share that the mental strain has left a different kind of scar. He’s preparing to explain how his life was forever changed because of one fateful day on the Fraser River.
The Fight for Life
In March of 2013, Sean’s life jacket got caught in the tie-up lines and he was driven into a barge and pinched, with a line wrapped around his body crushing his arm and ribs. He describes the feeling of imminent death, and believing that he’d seen his wife and (then) one month old son for the last time:
“It all happened slowly and I fought for a while. But by the end, when my arm was flattened, I was pretty sure I was dead and it came to a point when I gave up. It was at almost the exact moment I was checking out that the barge moved away. I fell down to the ground, picked my arm up and started crawling. I can say, it was not a good day.”
Sean’s crushed elbow and forearm, though slated to be amputated the night of the incident, were saved by a gutsy surgeon. The road ahead was long and the path uncertain.
In one instant, almost every element of Sean’s life changed. Before that day he had lived what most would consider a pretty high-risk lifestyle. He and his wife Shawna had moved to Squamish years prior for a life of rock climbing, downhill mountain biking, whitewater kayaking and proximity to his heavy industry job.
“All of that changed. Everything. I saw the danger in things that I never ever did before – my risk management changed drastically.”
Miraculously, Sean is now back to work on the water and able to pick up his two young sons. However, physical limitations mean that he may never climb, bike or kayak again. As he speaks, Sean is neither complaining nor sugarcoating, and the story comes to life in a simple series of facts:
“Is there a silver lining? Yes – I’ve got an amazing wife and family, plus a new passion to be thankful for… and I’m lucky to get to be around to see my two sons grow. I usually say, ‘it could’ve been worse’, but inside I’d like parts of my old life back. I miss climbing, and the relationships and lifestyle I’d built around sport. Things have changed.”
Therapy Comes in Many Forms
“Life isn’t easy. But nothing of value ever is.”
Bored by the mundanity of physiotherapy, Sean sought out alternative ways to occupy his mind and hands in the name of rehabilitation. With carpentry in his roots, he followed in his father’s footsteps and found that woodworking was therapeutic on a number of levels:
“Physically, it made me utilize my body, and helped my hand to work again, because it didn’t. More than that, it was something I could lose myself in, instead of the repetitive exercises of physiotherapy. I could get really into a piece and completely forget about my disability. It is really what (aside from my family) has filled the void of climbing and everything else.”
The Wood Story
And so, a new passion was born. Referring to Sean’s creations as “woodworking” or “furniture making” certainly doesn’t pay proper homage to the beautiful, modern pieces that he coaxes from salvaged and reclaimed woods. Sean Bridge is an artist, whether or not he’s willing to admit it.
His talent has manifested into WoodStory & Co., a name credited to Sean’s wife who saw that he was always enamoured with the history of the wood itself. Every piece came from somewhere, and every piece has a story:
“I don’t know what I love more, furniture making or finding the product. A day in the forest with a chainsaw is the best day ever for me. Living the adventure of what I might bring home.”
There is something very apropos about the fact that Sean now works with reclaimed and salvaged materials. As he excitedly reminisces about recovering wood from a 100 year old home headed for the landfill to give it a purpose that will stand the test of time, it’s hard not to correlate his own story with this love of breathing new life into found materials. For both, there is an unmistakable theme of taking what’s left after a wreckage, creating a new beginning, and finding meaning in the backstory. Second chances for the strong silent types.
When he’s not on a boat, Sean Bridge is currently building a WoodStory & Co. website, teaching his sons to woodwork and himself to weld. His designs can be found at pop-up shops around the Lower Mainland or in his humble workshop. Follow him on Facebook or Instagram to learn more about his beautiful new beginnings.