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NHLer Theo Fleury shares struggles but offers hope through telling his story to Nova Scotia youth

Theo Fleury speaks with N.S. high school students about mental health
Theo Fleury shared his deeply personal story of addiction and sexual abuse with students in Nova Scotia

Theo Fleury is known for his accomplishments on the ice, including a Stanley Cup victory, an Olympic Gold medal, and his wildly-emphatic goal celebrations. But in the last decade, Fleury’s become better known for his advocacy work around mental health, the sharing of his own story, and the sexual abuse he suffered as a junior hockey player by a coach he trusted.

Fleury spoke to nearly 200 students at the L’nu Sipuk Kina’muokuom School (LSK) on the Sipeknekatik First Nation in Nova Scotia Tuesday. He was candid in sharing details about his past struggles with alcohol and drugs, and how he turned his life around.

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Sponsored by the RCMP Foundation, the talk was billed as “Reflections on Healing and Trauma.” And just as he was on the ice as an NHLer, Fleury was a little raw and voracious at times.

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“I’m not a politician. I don’t need to sugarcoat anything. I don’t need to lie,” said Fleury, during a scrum with reporters. “I just talk about my experience. This is where is where I was, this is what I did, this is where I am today.”

You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium as Fleury spoke, with students and staff hanging on every word. The 50-year-old has travelled coast-to-coast and says sharing his story helps.

“It’s why I do it, It’s what I do,” said Fleury.

In 2009 he published his autobiography “Playing with Fire” co-written by Kirstie McLellan Day and says by sharing his story and speaking so openly about his struggles, it’s allowed others to speak out about their trauma.

“It’s all about finding your own voice and talking about … your pain and suffering,” he said. “That’s the first step in the process.”

Although the students might be too young to remember Theo Fleury as an NHL superstar, you could tell he’s a still a star in the eyes of the students.

“A lot of my family don’t know how to deal with mental health issues or trauma,” said Grade 11 LSK student Justice Paul. “We are all just very hush-hush about it. But now that there are workshops happening and a lot of people are really getting that education they need to help each other.”

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Cpl. De-Anne Sack with the RCMP Indigenous Policing Services said the event had been in the works for more than a year now and was personally affected by the emotion and honesty in Fleury’s story.

“You can feel his pain, his sorrow, his victory,” said Cpl. Sack. “It’s his story to tell and it makes me feel empowered and uplifted knowing we have somebody out there who is willing to bear all, so the youth can identify and possibly help with their healing journey as well.”

Fleury doesn’t plan on stopping his advocacy work any time soon. He says he’ll be going into prisons to share his story with inmates, and is toying with the idea of making a documentary about the experience on going into the prison system and speaking with those behind bars.