Theo Fleury may be best known for his time on the ice as an NHL Stanley Cup Champion, World Cup Junior Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist, but that hasn’t stopped him from sharing his message of hope and positivity to youth across Canada.
“Trauma, mental health and addictions are all connected,” said Fleury. “We’re seeing more and more people coming to grips with their own traumatic experiences, which leaves us in emotional pain and suffering. What do we do with that pain? We tend to gravitate to the dark side of life and addictions. People aren’t necessarily wanting to die, they just want a way to manage their pain.”
“Eventually, we come to a point where we need to make a choice: those of us who want to live find a way to manage our pain and suffering. We need to talk about it. We need to feel safe. When people have hope, they don’t kill themselves - they find a way to make their lives better.”
Fleury’s most recent stop was in Dryden last night at The Centre, as he hosted The Power of Me Too event in collaboration with the Kenora District Services Board.
“We were very glad and fortunate that we were able to get Theo here to Dryden to share his story,” said Henry Wall, Chief Administrative Officer at the Kenora District Services Board. Wall adds that Fleury spent much of the day with staff from across the KDSB, prior to The Power of Me Too event.
“Once a year, we have a day to recognize our staff and the work that we do. Also, due to the vast geography that we serve, it’s a good way to bring staff together. We want to focus on how to prepare our staff. It’s tough to be in social services or a paramedic in this region, you’re exposed to a lot of trauma. We wanted everyone to hear his story. We want our staff to have those tools to deal with that stress and trauma, and to walk away from those situations in good health.”
Fleury has become a well-known advocate for mental health, after struggling with alcohol and gambling addictions during his pro hockey career. He's also been a vocal supporter of sexual abuse victims, which he is himself, as detailed in his novel Playing with Fire: The Theo Fleury Story.
While playing junior hockey in Moose Jaw, Fleury was abused by head coach Graham James. James was also convicted of sexually assaulting Sheldon Kennedy and Fleury's cousin Todd Holt - who both played for James in Swift Current.
“It’s incredible how many people relate to the story, even without all of the hockey stuff,” added Fleury. “Just talking about living and that desperation. We’re afraid to talk about it because of what people think, but I’ve found that the more vulnerable I can be, it allows people to feel safe. That’s the objective. We need more education, especially in northern and isolated communities with limited resources. It’s all about educating and sharing our experiences.”
Donations were accepted at the door of the event, which will all be donated to the Dryden and Area Community Well-Being Plan’s Youth Pillar.
“From the youth perspective, our young people need to see hope,” added Wall. “Many youth are struggling, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Life is tough, but not impossible. We need to make sure that our youth are empowered to overcome problems that they face. Asking for help is not a weakness, it makes us stronger. This was just one of many steps to come.”
Fleury, who is of Metis heritage, has visited more than 200 First Nation communities across the country since retiring from professional hockey in 2006. He began his motivational speaking career in the Fort Frances area before moving through northwestern Ontario, and has continued to share his story across the nation.
Fleury played for the Calgary Flames over 11 seasons, and had a short stint in Colorado with the Avalanche, before moving onto the New York Rangers. His final season in the NHL was with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2002-2003.
In 1,084 games throughout his professional hockey career, Fleury scored 455 goals and added 633 assists for a total of 1,088 points.