MONTREAL, QC — They’ve been stars and heroes for years, but how do they cope when all the spotlights shut down and their dream comes to an end? « It’s a difficult time to figure out what to do with the rest of your life » That’s how Theoren Fleury, former NHL player for the Calgary Flames, described the moment between hockey life and post hockey life, when we asked him about it.
Sober since 2005, the Alberta native won a long battle against drug and alcohol addiction that got him suspended two times for violating the NHL drugs program. In 2009 he tried a comeback with the Flames, unsuccessfully. « The comeback, for me, was more about clearing my name. I didn’t want to retire as a suspended player. » According to him, his age was also a big factor : «When you get past 40, you realize quickly that you’re not bouncing back like you used to. It takes a lot of hard work to stay competitive.»
For him, the 2009 Flames camp was a bonus, maybe a redemption, but at the end of the day the decision was easy to make : « It was a great experience, I sat down with my family, we all felt that “hey, it was great and I think it’s time to move forward and move on to something different in our lives”. » When in talks for an upcoming autobiographic book, many people believed that Fleury was doing it for the money. He is the first to recognize that he had been through some rough times in his career, but thinks that « people who talk negatively about what [he’s] doing, are the people who need the most help of anybody out there. »
Theoren has been lucky with his transition to real life. The phone rang early. People contacted him for some motivational speaking and to be the voice in the healing process of child abuse. « This career was just something that happened naturally and that I really enjoy doing. It’s just motivating people, getting people to think differently about their life. It has turned into a great thing, a great after hockey career. »
For others, the road has been more difficult. The reason is simple; they have been so focussed and motivated on becoming NHL players « [that] some of [them] probably don’t have a lot of education or degrees. Some of [them] stay in the game of hockey and become scouts, coaches, analysts or whatever it is. »
The former NHL player believes that the « [incapacity] to find that peak of competition in the real world » can be what makes the transition harder. Big question marks have been raised about the help the NHL is giving to former players to help cope with this situation. The right winger thinks that this help is enough and it’s up to the players to create their own post hockey life. For him, saying that the NHL help isn’t enough is ridiculous. « At the end of the day, it comes down to each individual person to motivate themselves, educate themselves, go back to school and do what it takes. It’s difficult at the beginning, but there are incredible opportunities if you’re willing to do the work. »
He admits that the abundance of natural ressources in Alberta offers plenty of future jobs for the retired players of the province but that it can be different in some other areas. In the end, would the man change anything about his career? « No. I had an amazing career despite everything that happened in my life. I wish I had a dollar for every time people told me I was too small to play in the NHL, that I wouldn’t play a game in it, and guess what? I played over 1000 games in the league.»
Theoren Fleury wouldn’t change a thing if he could, he believes that his hockey career allowed him to have the voice he does today. « Child sexual abuse is such an epidemic these days on the planet. You know, there are over eight million survivors of child sexual abuse. In the end, the first part of my life, my hockey life, allowed me to have a very loud and strong voice. It’s about providing people the opportunities to tell their story, find their voice and start the healing process from this horrible thing that happened to all of us. »
Today, he takes the scene for them and is trying to help them. Theo doesn’t envy anyone, he lives with his family in Calgary and has the support of a wonderful partner. « Why would I change that? ». For him, all went well in his post hockey life, and he really believes that the players have the responsibility to make their own post hockey life too, to do whatever it takes to find what they want to do with the rest of their life.