Canadian Coma Survivor Takes Gold at World Series of Poker

Calen McNeil
Calen McNeil: WSOP champion.

Victoria, BC restaurant owner Calen McNeil made it six gold bracelets for Canada at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas Thursday.

McNeil, who owns and operates Big Wheel Burger in Victoria, defeated a field of 1,014 to win his first WSOP title and $277,274.

“The whole time I just knew I was going to win,” McNeil told poker media following his victory. “Even when I came in as the short stack I knew I was going to win.”

When you consider McNeil's backstory, his optimism becomes a little more understandable.

In 1994 McNeil went into hospital for knee surgery and overdosed on morphine. He spent the night in a coma and said he was pronounced brain dead, but was miraculously resuscitated the following day.

He was paralyzed for days but after six months of full-time rehabilitation McNeil was back on his feet. Three years later he had made an almost full recovery.

“This is the cherry on top because those were tough times,” McNeil said of his victory. “But I persevered then and you have to persevere to win in these tournaments too so there's a lot of similarities in the mindset and the competitive drive.

“And we have free medicare in Canada which is awesome. It didn't cost me a penny. We also have online poker,” McNeil said with a laugh.

Joking aside, it was clear how much the bracelet and the experience meant to McNeil.

Brasilia Room at WSOP
A WSOP regular for years, this is McNeil's first gold.

“These moments really make you realize how blessed you are.”

From Chess in Rehab to Serious Poker

McNeil graduated from Camosun College on Vancouver Island and said he's always played strategy games. But it was in the months of rehab following his near-death experience that he took to playing chess seriously online.

“Because I suffered a brain injury I used chess as a way to exercise my mind,” explained McNeil.

“Then my brother turned me onto online poker with Party Poker and it was a just a natural progression from there."

In 2004 McNeil won his first live tournament in Las Vegas and he's been posting results ever since.

McNeil said he's been coming to the WSOP for the last six or seven years but the $277k he took down today was by far and away his biggest score.

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