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Fleury talks about successes, struggles, Métis heritage

It doesn’t matter if it is in front of 20,000 fans in an NHL arena or 900 students in a school gymnasium – Theoren Fleury still elicits a certain wow factor.
Former NHL superstar Theoren Fleury talks about his storied career on the ice, and various struggles off it, to a crowd of around 900 students during Bert Church High
Former NHL superstar Theoren Fleury talks about his storied career on the ice, and various struggles off it, to a crowd of around 900 students during Bert Church High School’s Métis Day in Canada celebration, Nov. 26.

It doesn’t matter if it is in front of 20,000 fans in an NHL arena or 900 students in a school gymnasium – Theoren Fleury still elicits a certain wow factor.

The former NHL superstar, turned motivational speaker, author and Battle of the Blades contestant, was at Airdrie’s Bert Church High School on Nov. 26 to speak about his professional success, personal struggles and the importance of continued education, during the school’s celebration of Métis Day in Canada.

“It’s a real honour for me to be here today and represent the Métis nation and the Métis culture,” said Fleury, 42, whose paternal grandfather was Métis. “This is all about helping people and trying to make a difference in their lives. I feel really fortunate that I’ve being able to get through what I’ve been able to get through and to now have the courage to portray it to other people.”

Fleury, whose successes include a 1988 World Junior gold medal, a 1989 Stanley Cup ring with the Calgary Flames, a 1991 Canada Cup gold medal and a 2002 Olympic gold medal, said when he was eight years old he watched a CBC TV movie about Louis Riel and that it had a profound impact on him.

“I think from that moment, when I saw him, who he was and what he represented – he’s always been an idol of mine,” Fleury said.

“If any of you watched me play during my NHL career, I was similar to Louis in my determination, my drive, and my will to win. I think the biggest reason I was as great as I was on the ice is because I have Métis blood in me. Métis are extremely talented people when it comes to art, music and sport.”

He also discussed the darker parts of his life – the sexual, alcohol and drug abuses and his near suicide attempt in 2004 – that make up the bulk of his co-authored auto-biography Playing With Fire.

“Basically for 20 years of my life I never slept, maybe an hour or two hours a night. I was molested in a dark room and every time I closed my eyes it brought me back to that place. The only way I was able to cope with the emotional pain that I was going through was to use drugs and alcohol. The only way I could get any sleep was to get completely annihilated and pass out,” Fleury told the crowd of about 900 students.

“But there’s three places you’ll wind up if you choose a career in drugs and alcohol: the first one is jail, the second is an institution, and the third one is death. I’ve been to jail, I’ve been institutionalized many times and only by God’s grace am I here, because I should not be here,” he said, right before being greeted by an ironically-timed buzzer error by the scoreboard.

“That’s pretty final, right there,” he said.

Fleury has kept himself busy since his ill-fated comeback attempt with the Calgary Flames prior to the 2009-10 season.

He has done several cross-country book tours to support Playing with Fire, as well as multiple motivational speaking engagements and a fifth-place finish in this season’s Battle of the Blades on CBC.

“At first, I was terrified of putting on figure skates and the stereotype that comes with it. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would call myself a figure skater, but I do now and it was a great challenge. It was a lot of fun to be part of that show,” he said.

“I have a Grade 12 education and that’s it, so when I retired from the game of hockey it was really hard for me because I didn’t know what the rest of my life was going to look like. So education, I believe today, in this society, in this world, is the most important thing that you can do. Without education, it’s a real tough, ugly world out there. It gives you the power to choose whatever path you would like to go on.”

Fleury made a cameo appearance in this fall’s theatrical release of Score! A Hockey Musical, singing alongside Walter Gretzky, and is working on a country music album that he hopes to release next year. He has also started the grant application process for a potential film documentary about his storied life.

“I’ve really found peace and happiness and I love my life now,” he said. “I really enjoy coming and speaking to young people and try to get them to think differently. For a lot of years, I had no credibility, as I’d say one thing and do the opposite. So now all I can do now is lead by example. Hopefully I’ve giving them some hope that they can overcome challenges in their lives.”


Airdrie Today Staff

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