Seeking help is courageous: ex-NHL star

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo Theo Fleury, a retired NHL player, speaks to Hay River high school students on April 27.

Paul Bickford/NNSL photo
Theo Fleury, a retired NHL player, speaks to Hay River high school students on April 27.

Theo Fleury has a message for Hay River’s youth – if you need help, ask for it.

“The hardest thing for me to do was to ask for help,” said the former NHL star to high school students from several schools gathered at Diamond Jenness Secondary School on April 27.

Fleury’s personal story of surviving sexual abuse as a young hockey player and his battle against substance abuse is well known, and documented in his two books – Playing with Fire and Conversations with a Rattlesnake.

However, he said his life changed almost 11 years ago when reached out and asked for help.

“Asking for help is absolutely the most courageous thing that you can possibly do in your life,” he said. “Asking for help is incredibly brave. It does not mean that you are weak. It means you have courage and you have strength. You care about yourself.”

Addressing the students, Fleury said there were probably young people there suffering in silence, perhaps because of mental health issues or addictions.

“We’re human beings,” he said. “We’re supposed to make mistakes. At the end of the day, we’re doing the best that we can with what we have.”

Fiona Huang, a Grade 10 student at Diamond Jenness, called Fleury’s address to the students inspirational.

“It was very inspiring,” she said. “He’s definitely giving people a lot of advice and showing people to be brave and not to hide, show how they’re feeling and get help if they need help.”

Huang believes Fleury’s message will actually encourage students to get help.

“Sometimes people just need someone to tell them that and I feel that since he made that such a good point people are going to not be thinking that they’re weak now,” she said. “They’ll be courageous about it because they’ll know that it’s courageous to get help, so they’ll get help.”

Diamond Jenness vice-principal Tim Borchuk was also impressed by Fleury’s message.

“It’s powerful,” said Borchuk. “He’s got a powerful message to all the kids…. They were paying attention.”

And the vice-principal believes that message will help some young people.

“There’s something to be said for the fact that you’re not alone,” he said. “That was one of his biggest messages is you’re not alone in this and there’s people that can help you.”

The main sponsor of Fleury’s visit to the community was the Hay River Metis Government Council, and the organization’s president, Trevor Beck, was at Diamond Jenness Secondary School to hear him speak.

Beck said he saw Fleury make a real connection with the students.

“It absolutely was everything and more than I expected,” he said, explaining the Metis council’s goal in bringing Fleury to Hay River was to help create a healthier community.

“It was so worth it we did it,” Beck added. “We reached exactly the people we needed to reach.”

Fleury, who is of Metis heritage, played in the NHL for 15 years with Calgary, Colorado, the New York Rangers and Chicago.

As a Calgary Flame, he was part of the Stanley Cup-winning team in 1989.

In 2002, he was also a member of Team Canada, which won the gold medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics.

While in Hay River, he spoke at a number of events on April 27 – including a luncheon at the Ptarmigan Inn and at the end-of-season dinner for Hay River Minor Hockey.

–Paul Bickford