VERNON — He may have been one of the smallest players to play in the NHL, but Theo Fleury made a big impression on local secondary students.
The former NHL star spoke to kids at Seaton, Vernon Secondary, and Kalamalka today, brought in by the school district.
Fleury told his story of how he has overcome sexual abuse as a teenager which led to drug and alcohol addiction during his NHL days.
The 48 year old -- who got a round of applause after noting he has been sober for 11 years as of September 18 -- urged students to care and respect one another, and to not be afraid to ask for help.
"It's difficult for kids to find their voice at such a young age, but I'm amazed at how many kids do come up and say 'Me too,' so that makes it all worth it," Fleury told Kiss FM.
The five-foot six former NHL superstar, who grew up in the small town of Russell Manitoba, told the story of when his autobiography "Playing With Fire" was first released in 2009, he was nervous about what the response would be.
"I was crapppin'. I was so afraid. I didn't know how you out there would react to the book," Fleury told about 1,000 students and staff at VSS.
Fleury says he was at the first book signing session with about 400 people in line in Toronto, when one came up to him and said the words, "Me too."
Fleury says that gave him the assurance he was doing the right thing, and others could be helped by his story and message.
"I will never forget that man as long as I live. He was there to deliver a spiritual message to me."
VSS principal Don Balcombe says Fleury's message was powerful and courageous.
"Kids will connect with that. He showed his vulnerability. It's going to allow students to be open about their concerns, to ask for help, and step up in those situations where their friends are hurting, so I think it was a great message," Balcombe told Kiss FM.
Some VSS students who talked with Kiss FM, called Fleury's speech inspirational, adding it will make them think more about helping others and showing compassion.
Fleury's visit to Vernon schools came on the same day his abuser Graham James was released on parole, but Fleury did not want to talk to local media about that.
During his speech at VSS, Fleury did not mention James by name but talked about "that scout" that he says "raped me 150 times over a two and a half year period."
It first started when Fleury was 15 and had moved to Winnipeg to play in the WHL.
"People ask me 'Why didn't you say something? I knew if I did, it would be the end of my hockey career, and I would be called a homo and a faggot," said Fleury.
It wasn't long after the abuse started Fleury had his first drink of beer.
He says alcohol helped him get over his shyness and to not feel as ashamed about what was going on with James.
"I became an instant alcoholic."
Fleury told students, his addictions led to him being jailed, the end of his NHL career, and almost resulted in him taking his life.
"I put the gun in my mouth. I remember it rattling my teeth. I remember what it tasted like."
However, before he could pull the trigger, Fleury says a "voice in his head" reminded him that he had "never quit" anything before, so "why would he do it now?"
He says he ended up throwing the gun away.
"I was completely exhausted from living a life of emotional pain and suffering...I have been to hell and back."
Fleury says at the height of his NHL days, while with the New York Rangers, he was getting a pay cheque for $400,000 every two weeks.
"And that was after taxes. I made sure I had $5,000 cash in my pocket at all times, because if I had a drink, I never knew where I would end up."
However, after he got sober, he says the 500 names in his phone contacts, shrunk to just two people who still wanted to be with him.
"The person that calls you to go to a party, they are not your friend. They are just an enabler."
Fleury urged students to "stop judging and start helping."
"You are the next generation, the next leaders that can change this affliction."
He also had a comment about bullies.
"Bullies are the most insecure people on the planet. The reason they do it is because they are experiencing trauma in their life."
Fleury, a father of four children who does a number of speaking engagements, says now he has the "greatest life you can ever imagine."
"The more you help people, the more you are going to help yourself," concluded Fleury.
Okanagan Indian Band member Dan Wilson introduced Fleury at VSS, noting the former right winger's dad Wally once played hockey in the North Okanagan for the Head of the Lake Stampeders in the 1960's and 70's.
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