Calen McNeil shed genuine tears of joy on Thursday afternoon, as the latest gold bracelet winner at the World Series of Poker. His victory was as much a celebration of poker as a celebration of life itself.The 42-year-old restaurant owner from Victoria, BC became the sixth Canadian champion at this series, so far – eclipsing the win mark set for Canadian for all of last year. NcNeil won $277,274 in prize money, plus his first gold bracelet. However, the thrill of victory and overcoming the odds, and ultimately joining the most elite club in poker were the factors that moved McNeil to tears while he was embraced by a cheering mob of family and friends.McNeil's victory felt all the sweeter and more satisfying for having overcome some serious personal challenges, including at least one death-defying experience.Years ago, McNeil was hospitalized for a routine procedure but suffered a malady that went terribly wrong. He went unconscious and was even pronounced brain dead for a time. McNeil was in a coma five days, but gained consciousness. That was just the beginning of McNeil's struggle and comeback.Over the next three years, McNeil rehabilitated himself both physically and mentally. During the process, he started playing chess as a way to develop mental skills and memory. The game proved so effective that as he continued to move towards a normal life, he began playing other games, including poker.The poker journey, which started out in small games around the Vancouver region gradually led to the pinnacle of poker, which was the WSOP in Las Vegas. McNeil has been coming to the WSOP for six years, but never got close to winning a gold bracelet, despite seven cashes.However, the $1,500 buy-in Omaha High-Low Split tournament which took place over a four-day period was to be his breakthrough win. McNeil ended up beating a tough runner-up, Can Kim Hua, the veteran Los Angeles-based poker pro, resulting in celebration and tears.McNeil is a businessman who owns three restaurants in Victoria, BC – including a hamburger and shakes fast-food joint (Big Wheel Burger), an Italian restaurant, and an English-style pub. However, McNeil's real appetite was to win a WSOP gold bracelet, which has now been served and devoured with all the pleasure and passion such a moment of joy should bring.MEET GOLD BRACELET WINNER – CALEN MCNEIL
Name: Calen McNeil
Current Residence: Victoria, BC (Canada)
Birthplace: Terrace, BC (Canada)
Marital Status: Single
Profession: Owner of Multiple Restaurants
WSOP Cashes (including this event): 8
First WSOP Cash (year): 2008
WSOP Final Table Appearances: 1
WSOP Wins (with this victory): 1INTERVIEW WITH THE CHAMPION
WSOP: How does it feel to win your first WSOP gold bracelet?
McNeil: This feels great. It's something every poker player dreams of. I've been playing since 2005. Some of my friends have them, so I needed one.
WSOP: Some of your friends have won gold bracelets?
McNeil: I have seven or eight of my buddies who own gold bracelets. Well, I'm now in the club too, boys!
WSOP: Why do you like Omaha High-Low Split as opposed to, let's say Hold'em?
McNeil: Omaha Eight-or-Better just seems to work for me. I've played in six of these events and have cashed in five. I don't think I play it correctly but....guys will see my hand and go (makes funny face).
WSOP: Did you feel confident coming into this event?
McNeil: This was the one event that I just felt I was going to win. The whole time I knew I was going to win....but during Day 2 there was something that derailed me. So, I readjusted and the whole time after that I knew I was going to win it. Event when I had a short stack.
WSOP: You encountered some difficult personal challenged in the past. Can you tell use about that?
McNeil: In 1994, I was pronounced brain dead after a case of medical malpractice. I couldn't move anything. I was completely paralyzed. Over the next three years, I did rehabilitation. This is like the cherry on top. That was a tough time. I persevered. And that helped me because in tournaments you have to persevere. There are some similarities in the mindset and the competitive drive I had before my medical incident. By the way, we have free Medicare in Canada. It didn't cost me a penny to be injured. And we have online poker. Hopefully that will happen here.
WSOP: After going through something like that, do you now feel blessed each day?
McNeil: Once you get through it, when things go wrong you sort of think about it. I do feel blessed. These moments make you feel how blessed you really are.
WSOP: How did you get into poker?
McNeil: I have always been a gamesman. I played a lot of chess when I was recovering. I used chess to exercise my brain. Then, I started playing poker online. It was a natural progression where I started coming to Las Vegas every year.
WSOP: Where do you normally play?
McNeil: There are so many good poker players in Victoria, which is Vancouver Island. We don't have a local cardroom there, so we go to Edgewater Casino, Fraser Downs, and River Rock.
WSOP: You are friends with two-time gold bracelet winner Scott Clements, who is one of the world's best at this game. Did he help you in any way?
McNeil: Scott actually learned everything from me. I take credit for it all.ODDS AND ENDSTodd Brunson finished in third place. He won his gold bracelet in 2005 playing this same game, Omaha High-Low Split. The cash also pushed him into seven-figure territory in career earnings, making him the 260th WSOP-made millionaire.Barry Greenstein cashed, the 60th WSOP in-the-money finish for his carrer. This now ranks 11th on the all-time cashes list.David Chiu cashed, the 56th WSOP in-the-money finish for his career. This now ranks 13th on the all-time cashes list.Husband and wife Tom and Julie Schneider both cashed. However, Julie got bragging rights for finishing higher – 80th versus 84th.