It would be easy for Mike Freeman to feel sorry for himself, but the double amputee has chosen instead to play the cards he’s been dealt instead of folding up and quitting on life.
“I can’t feel sorry for myself because I can still walk; I can still function almost normally in day-to-day situations,” noted Freeman, who lost his second leg to diabetes last winter and now gets around with the help of two prosthetic limbs.
“It’s one of those things in life where I know there are people who are worse off than I am,” he added. “I saw that in Thunder Bay when I was at rehab and getting the prosthetics.
“There are people who have had strokes who can’t remember who they are, and there are people that suffer from debilitating diseases.”
Diabetes has been a reality in Freeman’s life since 1985, requiring him to administer four shots of insulin a day.
“It’s been a big part of my life, but everyone has been so supportive and that’s the thing about small communities like ours, you just can’t beat the support you get from everybody,” he lauded.
Freeman was fitted for a prosthetic leg last winter and said the transition to walking with it was surprisingly easy to get used to.
“I was amazed. The day I left Fort Frances, it was a Thursday morning, and that afternoon I was walking,” he recalled.
“They have a practice prosthetic, which is basically a big balloon that inflates over your residual limb, and it’s in a cage with a little foot at the bottom of it, and you get on the parallel bars and I was walking just like that.
“I was amazed that the balance came back that quickly.”
Freeman can do much of his rehab here in town now—only having to go to Thunder Bay for the odd check-up and adjustment.
“I have video conferences with the specialists in Thunder Bay once in a while, but the only thing I have to travel for is when I need to have my prosthetic adjusted,” he explained.
“The residual limb still shrinks, it’s not down to its final size, so I go there to get it readjusted.”
Freeman and his brothers, Lanny and Everett, are perhaps best known for their years of volunteer work in the local hockey community.
“Our family’s been involved in local hockey since I was in high school in the late ‘70s,” Freeman remarked. “My dad [Allan] was selling and taking tickets at Muskie hockey games, and he was the caretaker at the high school for over 40 years, so everyone knew him.
“Our family always loved hockey and it was just a natural thing for us to be around the rink,” he continued. “We just kept going and supporting the high school team, and eventually we started working in the [penalty] box.
“I did the announcing, my brother, Lanny, does the score clock, and Everett does the scoresheets.”
“The Freeman family has a long history of supporting hockey here,” echoed local resident Larry Patrick. “When you look at the penalty box, you look and see the Freeman family, and it’s something people have become accustomed to seeing.”
Freeman’s passion for sports eventually led him to a career in broadcasting. He started with CFOB here in 1985 before eventually taking over as sportswriter for the Times from 1991-95.
He also worked for a year with the Sault Star in Sault Ste. Marie before returning to the radio booth at CFOB.
“When I was in Thunder Bay, I saw people doing the Thunder Bay Twins hockey games live and I thought, ‘You know, I’d love to try that,’ and suddenly I was into broadcasting,” Freeman recalled of his beginnings.
He said his media jobs allowed him to meet a lot of different people and open up socially.
“When you work in the media, you meet a lot of people and I have that to thank,” Freeman noted. “When I was in high school, I was one of the shiest people you’d ever meet, but I guess I have come out of my shell in some senses.”
Freeman said the hardest part associated with his recent spell of poor health has been the lack of time out on the golf course.
“If there’s one thing that bothered me, it’s the fact I can’t golf right now,” he joked.
“I’m hoping to get out at least once before the end of summer and try to hit some golf balls, whether it be on the range or whatever,” he noted.
“I’ve been working with physiotherapy, exercises, and muscle stimulation to work on my balance, so we’re hoping the end of this summer, or definitely next summer, I’ll be able to hit the golf course.
“I won’t be able to hit any golf balls decently because I never could, but I can still go out and enjoy it,” he laughed.
Despite his glass-is-half-full persona, Freeman admitted he couldn’t have made it through it all so swimmingly without his wife, Cheryl, by his side every step of the way.
“My wife has been a rock through this whole thing,” he stressed. “I don’t know if I could’ve done it without her.
“That’s one of the things that relates to our involvement in hockey, it’s all about family.
“We have a very close-knit family, we help each other out so much,” he noted. “And, of course, I have great friends in this community, too, not just people that I know personally who visit me, but people in the hockey community who are always saying ‘Hi, how you doing?’ and it’s amazing to have that support.
“Family support, and knowing that there’s people in the community that care, [got him through],” Patrick agreed.
“When Mike was in the hospital after he lost his second leg, we had the [Fort Frances Jr.] Sabres sign a big card that my wife made, and I brought it up to him, and his spirits were lifted immediately.”
Patrick said Freeman’s selfless demeanour is what’s made him such a likeable and well-known person here in Fort Frances.
“Despite his plight this year, there he was volunteering at the bass tournament [in July],” he lauded. “He’s that kind of guy.
“Even though he had health issues, as soon as the Sabres got started, Mike was right in there helping out,” Patrick continued. “Even when he had his leg issue, we lifted him into the press box so he could do pointstreak [game updates].
“He’s a great all-around person, and a charitable community guy all the way.”
Freeman’s efforts will be recognized with a fish fry in his honour on Wednesday, Sept. 23 at the Couchiching rec centre. The cost is $10, which includes fish, wild rice casserole, beans, bun, and a beverage.
The band “Night Shift” will provide the entertainment, and there also will be a silent auction and penny table.
Tickets can be purchased from Bev Kotnik at 274-2243.