Monday, January 13, 2014

Kirk's Story.

Howdy. If you're searching my name because we travelled together at some point in time and shared history together, or if you'd just like to know more about who Richard Kirk Leader is - well, I hope this helps.

Born & raised on the endless praries of Saskatchewan, it was home till I was in my early twenties. I grew up on the streets of central Regina in the core area, when it was still a decent & safe place to be a kid. Went to technical college after graduating high school, and became a civil engineering technician. Got the itch to move west once my education was done (like everybody else back then), and joined the exodus to Calgary in the early 90's. Settled in, and worked for a couple of large general contractors as a project estimator over the next few years, till I had a good look around the office one day and thought to myself "is this all I want for the next 40 years, watching life pass me by?" So on an impulse took a few months leave from work, & bought a ticket to Thailand to see if I was missing out on anything. Found out I was, big time. My "eyes were opened", you could say. Came home after a couple of months of adventure, sold all the needless crap and clutter I'd accumulated up to that point, bought a one way ticket to Australia & a backpack - and took off to see what the world had to offer. Sound extreme? I guess the time, it was the only thing that really seemed to make sense.

Spent the next five years in Oz, where I met amazing people, saw incredible landscapes and had experiences that words can't do justice. Had a great time just being young. Established friendships with unique and wonderful people that still exist to this day. Discovered more about myself, the world around me and the dynamics of life than any university could ever teach. After much trepidation and needless paranoia, I learned to scuba dive......and my life changed forever. Literally. Could not, and still can't, believe how incredible an experience time spent below the surface of the oceans can be.

Over the years eventually became a diving instructor to support myself, and travelled everywhere I could searching for the perfect dive. Spent countless hours in the company of sharks, rays, turtles, schools of fish of in every size and shape and color, shipwrecks with cargo holds full of history, mystery & tragedy, coral reefs so incredible you never want to come back to the reality awaiting at the surface. Absolutely the best thing I've ever done. Nothing, for me at least, compares to diving; it's a personal experience that I simply can't express in words. When I'm diving, I'm where I belong.

While living down under, also took advantage of the close proximity of Southeast Asia and made numerous trips to visit some really amazing countries & cultures. Spent the next few years backpacking around Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Borneo, Bangladesh, Tibet & Nepal. It was Thailand, though, that would leave a deep impression on me. When I finally decided it was time to leave Australia for new horizons, Thailand would become my new home. Found work as a dive instructor / dive guide on the island of Phuket (of tsunami fame, unfortunately), and for the next five years, life was as good as it gets. It was a tremendous experience - living near a beach, getting paid to do something I love. No matter what the future may have in store for me, those 10 years spent in Australia & Asia would prove to be the defining experiences of my life. Nothing would ever be the same, after a decade of total freedom.

But life pauses for no man, so the cliche' goes. Soon my twenties became my thirties, and eventually I had to make the decision as to whether Canada would ever be home again. Did some soul searching, made the decision to roll the dice, and moved home to see what destiny had in store for me. Had to pick a new "career", but I knew that it couldn't involve mind numbing routine, cubicles, senseless activity, worshipping money or staring at a clock on a wall and wishing the minutes of my life away waiting for five o'clock to come. No thanks............might as well just pass me a rope. Emergency Services crossed my mind. Didn't really want to carry a gun around looking for trouble, and don't get too excited about firetrucks anymore, so I thought "What about Paramedicine?" Did some research, signed up for the programs, and from 2003 till 2008 slowly accumulated the experience, education and skills needed to finally graduate with a diploma as an Advance Care Paramedic. What a journey; probably the most challenging thing I've ever done. But I survived. And it was worth it.

So, here I am, living back in Saskatchewan once again (no one was more suprised than me!) with a career in health care ahead of me. It's a good job, and I really do enjoy being a paramedic. Every day is different, and every once in a while I get a chance to make a bit of a difference in somebody's life. What I'm not into, however, is all the politics and ego's that come with all the Type 'A' personalities that tend to populate paramedicine. So, in order to try to minimize my potential for conflict and burnout, I now focus my work on the sector of this profession that appeals to me the most - remote medicine. It's not for everybody, and it can be pretty lonely at times, but you learn to be independant and resourceful, and the positives far outweigh the negatives for me. I've seen polars bears, packs of wolves, herds of caribou, Inuit whale hunts, Russian Icebreakers, flown on countless helicopters and even spent a summer in a tent on the arctic tundra, a 1000 kms from the nearest tree. You just don't get those kind of experiences working for your local EMS service. So far I've worked in the Yukon, NWT, Nunavut, Baffin Island & the Beaufort Sea, as well as the nothern most regions of Saskatchewan, Alberta & British Columbia.

So that brings me to 2014. Still diving as much as I can, and have been lucky enough to visit some very special places in the last couple of years - remote Indonesia, Palau, Galapagos, Socorro Islands, the Bahamas, Sea of Cortez & Baja Mexico. All amazing places, and I feel so lucky to have been able to add them to the experience of my life. The plan now is to just keep moving forward, with my work, my relationships and the time I have left to enjoy this awesome planet. Getting old is okay too, you know, because I have no regrets. It's seems to be getting easier to tell the difference between what really matters, and what really doesn't - although some days I still stumble.

Enjoy the pics below, they're some of my favorites, and kind of sum up what I've been up to. Most of them are mine, but the truly great ones are courtesy of various wonderfully generous people I shared these experiences with. There are also some of my video links on the top right (my newest hobby).

I check this blog once in a while, so if we travelled together long ago or if a previous friendship got lost in the maze of life, leave a comment and I'll be in touch - my email address is there too. And thanks for stopping by........(to be continued as the journey of life progresses).

November, 2014 - Well, time for an update I guess. First off, after leaving Saskatchewan in 1989 and then returning again in 2003, I have finally left the prairies behind once and for all. In July of this year I bought a nice home on Vancouver Island, in the city of Nanaimo. And I love it. The island is where I hope to spend the rest of my days, close to the living ocean. Within a hour of my home I have sea lions, seals, otters & eagles and rivers full of salmon. I've also sold the rebreather, which came as a surprise even to myself. Although I was fascinated by the technology and the doors it could open, I came to the conclusion that the risks involved with diving a CCR were not being balanced by the benefits it offered. And finally, after 10 years I have started to digitalize all my 35mm SLR travel photos from a decade in Asia; I hope to have the better ones posted on the blog in the weeks to come.

Take care, and get out & enjoy the planet.

September, 2015 - Sad News. Family & some closer friends already know, and I've done my best to tell everyone I was able to get into contact with over the last 6 weeks. On Friday, July 24th I was feeling ill after returning from work offshore off the east coast of Canada, and went to the Emergency Room to see what was up. Over the next three days and a barrage of tests & imaging, I was ultimately diagnosed with an aggressive rare cancer known as Cholangiocarcinoma. The cancer has spread to my liver, and there are no real treatment options available. It's terminal, and it will take my life very soon. Not the ending to this journey I was expecting, and surely not at 48 years of age. The first few weeks have been very difficult, it's impossible to describe the emotional load of receiving news like this.

I'm doing my best coming to terms with it all. I'm surrounded with a tremendous group of family, friends & neighbors who have been helping out with all the day to day activities, and I've moved beyond the self pity stage. It serves no purpose, and millions of people receive this same news every day. It is what it is.

Get out there and live your lives, respect this amazing planet, and really take the time to recognize what problems are really important and which ones simply aren't. Do it for me, please.

I will update the blog from time to time over the weeks to come, to let you know how this all progresses.................

November, 2015 - Well, the struggle continues. I was diagnosed with something like 12 weeks to live back in July -  but despite the odds - I'm still hanging in there. A lot of very bad days interspersed with the odd 'good day', and to be honest, some very horrific pain that can't really be put into words. So I won't even try. Cancer is an evil and awful thing, nothing more needs to be said. Fortunately there have been some incredible palliative care doctors & nurses assisting me all they can with what medical science & pharmacology can offer, and without them, I would have given up the fight a long time ago. For now I'll keep plugging along & see what each day brings. Quality of life doesn't really much exist anymore compared to pre cancer days, but visits from friends and taking care of loose ends keeps me going. Hopefully I can post another update before this surreal journey comes to a final end.

Sorry, I took down the comment section. Even when you are dying & trying to create a forum to stay in touch with friends, the haters out there still feel the need to post their personal views on my situation & criticize my personal choice to be an atheist. And Facebook will never be an option.

So yeah folks, get out there and find some new horizons.
Meet new people.
See new things.
Enjoy your life.

For me.