Former National Hockey League star Theo Fleury has had his share of well documented challenges throughout his life, and now the 44-year-old, who has Métis heritage, is training and preparing for his next task.
Fleury is planning a nine-day walk, from Toronto to Ottawa (a total of 401 kilometres) in May to raise awareness of the issues surrounding childhood sexual abuse. The event, which will be staged May 14 to May 23, is called the Victor Walk.
Fleury deems himself a victor. That’s because he has overcome childhood sexual abuse himself. In his autobiography titled Playing With Fire, which was released in 2009, Fleury confirmed he had been sexually abused by his junior coach Graham James.
James is currently serving a jail sentence for abusing Fleury and another former player. He was originally sentenced to two years for these crimes, but an appeal court increased the sentence to five years in February of this year.
James had previously spent more than three years in jail for also abusing one of his other former junior players, Sheldon Kennedy, who also went on to play in the NHL.
“We’re trying to put an end to 100,000 years of abuse,” Fleury said of the reason for his Victor Walk. “It’s going to take some time.”
Fleury plans to begin his walk at the Child Abuse Monument in Toronto. And the plan is to conclude the walk on the steps on Parliament Hill.
In an effort to raise awareness and to try and help get stricter child sexual abuse laws in the country, Fleury and others will read their Victor Impact Statements at the conclusion of the walk.
Since his own revelations of his abuse, Fleury has become an ardent advocate. Gaining support for his cause, however, has not been easy.
“It’s a subject not many people want to talk about,” he said.
Proof of this is that walk organizers haven’t found any businesses to support the walk.
“We’ve sent sponsorship packages to everybody,” Fleury said. “We’ve done big-time marketing. And we’ve had zero corporate interest across Canada.”
Alberta’s Siksika Nation though has formed a partnership with the walk. A contingent of about 10 people, including Tyler White, the chief executive officer of the Siksika Health Services, will be among those walking with Fleury for as much of the 401 kilometres as they can.
“I wouldn’t categorize myself as an athlete of any sort,” White said. “We want to do as much as we can though to support Theo.”
White is hoping others will soon jump on board.
“It’s disappointing we’re not getting the big corporations behind us,” he said. “But I’m confident once the walk gets going it will pick up momentum.”
Besides Fleury, it is uncertain how many others will cover the full distance of the walk. He is planning to walk between 40 to 50 kilometres each day in order to complete the event in nine days.
“We’re looking for as many folks [as possible] that want to be a part of it,” White said.
A portion of the walk proceeds will go towards the planned expansion of the Siksika Health Services facility. Expansion plans include a traditional healing centre and a clinic for victims of child sexual abuse.
Fleury visited the Siksika Health Services last year.
“I was completely blown away with what they were doing out there,” he said, adding he was impressed a facility was offering help to so many, ranging from those who needed X-rays, dental work or mental health assistance.
“They are a one-stop shop for all your needs.”
Edmonton’s Little Warriors Foundation and the Sexual Assault Centre for Quinte and District in Belleville, Ont. will also receive some of the walk proceeds.
Fleury said organizers will not speculate on how much money they can raise.
“Any amount would be just fine,” he said. “If you have expectations for a certain amount you’re just setting yourself up for failure.”
Fleury last played in the NHL a decade ago, during the 2002-03 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. He is best known though for being a member of the Calgary Flames, an organization he spent portions of 11 seasons with.
Fleury won the Stanley Cup with the Flames in 1989, his first season as a pro. He also had NHL stints with the Colorado Avalanche and New York Rangers.
Fleury averaged more than a point per game during his NHL career. He appeared in a total of 1,161 games and earned 1,167 points, including 488 goals.
Fleury was also a member of the Canadian team that captured the gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.