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Member Spotlight: Tim Casarin's Journey from Tragedy to Triumph on the Golf Course

Updated: May 14

By Tim O’Connor

 

In May 2014, Tim Casarin lay immobilized in the ICU of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto—a thick Aspen cervical collar hugging his broken neck, a “fixator” drilled into his smashed pelvis with nine-inch nails like it was an aluminum girdle.

 

Various pins, rods, and plates kept the majority of his 41 broken bones—including a busted right shoulder, fractured skull, and crushed right leg— “screwed together,” Tim quipped.



As he stared at the ceiling for days, he wondered if he’d ever get to horse around with his teenage kids again, go to the gym, or play golf.

 

During a routine conversation with his surgeon, Tim , through a mouthful of elastics and wires, mumbled: “When will I be able to play golf again?”

 

“That’s not happening,” the surgeon said, like he was giving directions to a lost motorist. “You’ll be lucky to walk again without something to lean on.”


In a booth at a Tim Horton’s this past winter, Tim recalls the conversation. “I thought, ‘F*** you.’ That’s not where my mindset was. But I didn’t worry about it. It was just next!


Tim laughs at the memory: “I’m lying there half dead and I’m thinking, ‘I have a round to play.’”

 

More than 10 years later, the retired fire fighter is excited about his upcoming second season as a ClubLink Member at Blue Springs just west of Toronto, where he averaged about four rounds a week in 2023. The only concession Tim makes to history is that he takes a cart.

 

That Tim, 56, is playing golf again isn’t the half of it.

 

On April 23, 2014, at 4 a.m., Tim and his colleagues from Station 116 in Mississauga answered what appeared to be a routine call. Black smoke was leaking from a warehouse rooftop, and water was pouring out of overhead doors. There were no flames.

 

Tim and two comrades went into the building but “couldn’t see two inches in front of them” due to smoke. They headed for their truck to get some fans. That’s the last thing he remembers.

 

Matt Attwell of Station 105 was helping a colleague back up an aerial truck when he saw Tim and two colleagues walk out of the building. Next Attwell heard what sounded like a bomb going off. The building exploded. The force of the blast pushed him forward.


“When I looked back, everyone was gone. I thought, ‘Everyone is dead.’ It looked like a war zone,” Attwell said. “I thought, ‘Today is the day. I’m not going home today.’”


Attwell quickly figured out that the concrete wall of the warehouse—about 20 feet high—fell on the trio. Attwell and colleagues ran toward the pile of rubble as flames rose high against the dark sky, dense smoke filled the air, and exploding propane and aerosol canisters hurtled around them like missiles.


They frantically pulled the shards of broken 50-pound cinderblocks off their buried colleagues. Attwell said they found Tim lying face up, unconscious, barely breathing; his face was oddly smashed in, flattened, covered in blood. They dragged Tim and his two colleagues to ambulances. Some of Attwell's fellow firefighters thought that Tim might die.


Doctors at St. Michaels fought to stem massive internal bleeding while he was in a medically induced coma for eight days. “It was a good two weeks before he was out of the woods,” his son Jacob said.


Jacob, 16 at the time, said he glimpsed his father being wheeled into surgery. “That’s when it really hit me. He didn’t look human. It wasn’t my dad. Just bones and skin and a lot of tubes.”


Remarkably, within three weeks, with the aid of nurses and a walker, Tim could hop up to 20 times on his left leg, largely to prevent blood clots. “I never felt so exhausted,” he said. “I was sweating.”


After five weeks, Tim was wheeled into West Park Healthcare Centre in Toronto on a stretcher to begin his rehabilitation. Along with other complications, his right foot jutted awkwardly to the right as he stepped. Tim was distraught when he looked in the mirror.


“I was afraid of what I was,” he said. “The speed of my recovery was way behind my motivation and where I wanted to be.”


By June, he graduated from a wheelchair to a walker to an aluminum cane. In August at a family outdoor event, he was teetering along when someone said, ‘Watch the old man with the cane.’


“I smashed the cane in half over a big rock—not in anger. I always thought that I was the luckiest guy alive. I thought, ‘I don’t need this crutch.’”


On August 24 while in London, Tim thought it was time. “Just take one swing, he said.


They drove to West Haven Golf Club. “I was terrified. I thought, ‘Maybe I can’t do this.’  But I thought that I had to face these fears.”


He nervously set up over the ball and swung. He stayed upright. “It was really emotional. It was four months after the surgeon said I wouldn’t walk again. I thought, ‘Ok, we got this.’ When something positive happened, it motivated me to keep going.”


Above: Tim's first golf swing just 4 months after the accident. (Video: Tim Casarin)


In the fall, he played golf for the first time—riding in a cart—for 18 holes. “It was awesome. I was getting normalcy back.”


Remarkably, in April 2015, he returned to work a year after the accident, earning him the name “Miracle Man” from his colleagues. Seven months later, he needed more surgery—his 27th—on his right leg to relieve pain and to remove hardware.


Tim returned to active duty again in late 2016. He played more golf, although having lost flexibility in his hips and shoulders and strength in his legs, he devised a new swing.


Tim and his son Jacob on the course. (Tim Casarin)

Just before the 2023 season, he joined Blue Springs. He sheepishly admits that he played “only 123 rounds last year.”


Despite his incredible recovery, Tim doesn’t see himself as a hero. He was just motivated.

 

“I always feel like I got a second chance. When I look back at my recovery, that’s one of the things I’m proud of: it was just day to day. That’s why I worked my butt off—to see my kids and get back to whatever normal is.”



Writer Tim O’Connor lives in Guelph, Ontario. He is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. His most recent book is the upcoming Getting Unstuck: Seven Transformational Practices for Golf Nerds.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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