From victim to victor: that’s the premise behind Calgary Flames alumni Theo Fleury’s foundation, which stopped in Vernon Friday.
The former NHL player brought the Victor Walk to town July 22, part of his Breaking Free Foundation which provides survivors of traumatic life events with the treatment and support needed to reclaim their lives.
It’s a journey Fleury knows well, as he shared his story of sexual abuse, followed by addiction, nearly killing himself and then finding the safe space and courage to share and start to heal from his past.
“I was raped 150 times by my coach,” Fleury said of his WHL experience. “19 years ago I had a fully-loaded pistol in my mouth, not because I wanted to do it, but because I was exhausted.”
It was honesty and being open that changed his life. After writing an autobiography and spilling the past, which he had spent so much time trying to hide, onto the pages, he saw the greater impact it made.
“It truly changed my life.”
He remembers one of his first book signings, where he was shocked to see people lining up with copies of Playing With Fire. But one man in particular caught his attention as he placed his book down and looked at Fleury and said, “me too.”
“We aren’t doing a very good job in society of providing a safe space for people to talk about it,” Fleury told the crowd of approximately 40 people gathered in Polson Park Friday.
The Breaking Free Foundation works to change that by providing counselling services to victims who cannot afford it.
“We have a waiting list of 43 to get into therapy,” said Fleury, who raises money at breakingfreefoundation.ca.
“I’m in therapy for the rest of my life. And I’m OK with that because every time I go into some therapeutic process I get better.
“There’s a lot of people right now who are hurting. If we are going to get out of the mental health crisis this is how we do it.”
Coming together at events such as the one in Vernon is what Fleury does to “collect people,” and build community and spaces for those who feel like victims to start or continue their journey to becoming a victor.
Wearing an orange shirt with an Indigenous-designed frog on it, Fleury and the other volunteers with the foundation explain the meaning behind the creature.
“Frogs do not hop backwards, they only move forwards.”
The frog has continued to be a strong symbol for Fleury, who now dedicates his life to his work with the foundation.
“I would trade the Stanley Cup, the gold medal, I would trade all of that for doing this.”