Theoren Fleury had a storied career as a hockey player, but now he says he's doing something much more important.
The Stanley Cup winner and Olympic Gold Medalist is touring the world, bringing his message of hope and healing for those undergoing trauma and mental health issues.
Fleury stopped in the Foothills last weekend to give the keynote speech at SNAPS Foothills' "If Only" event.
He says he's learned from his public speaking engagements that experiencing trauma and mental illness is all too common these days.
"What I've discovered is I'm not the only person that has experienced trauma in their life. As I said in my speech, I believe that trauma, mental health and addiction are the biggest epidemic on the planet," Fleury said.
As a hockey player, Fleury was not only famous for his scoring touch, but his refusal to back down from bigger players despite his diminutive frame. As a public speaker who discusses mental health and trauma, Fleury encourages others to exhibit the same type of grit he showed as a player.
"Everybody just needs to make a choice and make a decision that, "you know what, my life's not going the way that I may have planned, or thought it would go, but I know I can change it," so make the choice, and then (they) gotta do the work," Fleury said.
Fleury's book "Playing With Fire" became famous for detailing the sexual abuse he dealt with at the hands of his junior hockey coach, and the addiction and depression that came from his traumatic experiences.
He said he has 80 speaking engagements this year, because he is one of very few men who has openly discussed their stories of sexual abuse.
Despite the societal taboo around admitting to sexual abuse, Fleury says he has been humbled by the number of people who have found him to tell him they too experienced something similar.
Fleury's speech revolves around the concepts of empathy, vulnerability, and compassion, as healing tools to help people overcome their past traumatic experiences.
"We have so much awareness around (mental health issues)... so why isn't this awareness being turned into action and getting people well? That's the big riddle. But a lot of it has to do with stigma, and you reduce stigma by being vulnerable," he said.
In association with his Breaking Free Foundation, Fleury holds twice-monthly group therapy sessions in Calgary for those who want to discuss their experiences with trauma. Participants are invited to share, or simply listen to others.
"When I first started out, I got involved in people's lives, and I burnt out really quick. I realized I can only tell my story the best way I know how, and hopefully that allows somebody to say 'hey, wow, this guy did it. Maybe I can do it too,'" he said.
The "If Only" event raised $21 thousand for Foothills SNAPS.
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