Like many victims of sexual abuse, former NHL player Theo Fleury thought he was the only one going through the trauma.
But now the best-selling author is using his celebrity to raise awareness about child abuse, bring stronger laws against abusers and to create more help centres for survivors. He’s doing so with his new documentary “Victor Walk” and revealed the moment that set his life on a new course in a sit-down interview with ET Canada at the Whistler Film Festival: “We’re only as sick as our secrets and I had a lot of secrets. I was sick: emotionally, physically, spiritually sick.”
Fleury wrote a best-selling book in 2009, but at the time he had low expectations for the tell-all story about his life. He was shocked to see 400 people at his first book signing. There was one person he vividly recalls in that sea of faces. “Out of the corner of my eye I spot a guy in line,” he explains. “He’s got my book clutched against his chest, his face is buried in his chest and he’s walking very slow… he gets to the front of the line, puts the book on the table, looks me in the eye and says ‘me too, me too.'”
Those two words were the catalyst for Fleury, who as a youth had been sexually abused by his junior hockey coach. “The stats are shocking,” he exclaims. “I thought I was the only one experiencing [sexual abuse].”
In his new documentary, “Victor Walk”, the former Calgary Flames player spends 10 days walking from Toronto to Ottawa – some 400 km, meeting fellow survivors (or victors) along the way. “The best conversations we have are when you’re walking with somebody who is a friend, somebody you trust,” Fleury explains. “We just said ‘let’s go for a walk and see what happens.’ And what happened was absolutely the most life-changing experience I’ve ever been on.”
The result was a deep and immediate connection with fellow victims of sexual assault: “Seeing people pull up on the side of the road, get out of their cars, head buried in the ground and shoulders slumped. I would grab them and hug them and just hold the space. I didn’t have to say a word and just have them tell us their stories. As soon as they tell their stories, their eyes brighten up, their shoulders become straighter, their posture becomes better and they have hope.”
Adding, “That’s why I get up out of bed… it’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
In the video above, Fleury describes why he didn’t tell his story while in the NHL and what he believes lawmakers must do to change how sexual assault is dealt with in the court system. Ultimately, and most importantly, his advice to victims of sexual assault is to have the courage to confide in someone and find your voice.