Blue Bomber Report Record: 4–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Bond of brothers

Bombers' RB Bernard returns to Haiti on a special mission

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Yvenson Bernard turned on the TV to watch with horror the devastation in Haiti and kept saying over and over, "Where's Sebastien? Where's Sebastien."

It took him three weeks to get his answer. And every minute of those three weeks put Bernard, a running back with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, through his very own version of horror. Nothing like what his countrymen were experiencing, but still crippling in its emotional terror.

Sebastien is Bernard's eight-year-old half-brother and sometime today the two will meet somewhere in the tent city that is housing most of Port-au-Prince these days.

"It's not the kind of news you want to be waiting on," said Bernard, 25, who broke in with the Bombers last season after a solid college career at Oregon State.

"It's not a good situation. He's OK. He's with his mother. But the street is no place for a little boy to be living. It's difficult to imagine him there in those circumstances."

Bernard has decided to go and check up on his little brother in person. He and his girlfriend, Michelle Williams, will travel to Haiti today and take with them $10,000 they have raised to help children like Sebastien.

"It was too easy to raise this much money. I just went back to Oregon to my college community and put the word out that I wanted to take clothes over to Haiti," said Bernard, who left Oregon as the school's second all-time leading rusher with 3,862 career yards.

"But people started giving us cash," he said. "So we're going over and we'll contact the Hope for Haiti organization. I really want this money to go to the orphanages to help kids that already had it bad before this happened."

Bernard says the outpouring of support from people around the world to those struggling in Haiti has been noticed.

"This is the first time my people have felt loved," said Bernard, who was born in Florida to Haitian parents. "They feel like the rest of the world loves them and supports them. It's been a terrible tragedy, but the way people have stepped up has been a positive."

The death toll in Haiti since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck on Jan. 12 is now in the neighbourhood of 230,000.

"It's hard to imagine," Bernard said. "You turn on the TV and all these people you know are there.

"When you are Haitian, well, we all feel connected," he said. "I've got 15 or 20 very close relatives there. You wait every day to hear about someone you know that has died. For a while, I wasn't doing very good. It was a very difficult time."

Bernard had a solid rookie season with the Bombers, picking up 336 yards on 53 rushes as Fred Reid's backup. He says coming back to Winnipeg to play football will be a joy.

"I'll come back knowing I'm blessed to be able to have this opportunity to play a game for a living, to entertain people and have a roof over my head and to be able to feed my family."

NOTES: Veteran defensive back Lenny Walls signed with the Edmonton Eskimos on Monday. The Bombers released Walls earlier in the off-season to avoid paying an off-season roster bonus.

Some expected the club to attempt re-signing Walls, but coach Paul LaPolice said last week such a deal was not in the cards.

Walls had a fine season with Winnipeg last year, registering 48 defensive tackles and an East Division-leading seven interceptions, plus returning an interception and a fumble for touchdowns.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

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