A not so fairytale beginning develops into lasting legacy
By Taylor Chartrand
The year was 1983, Elkhorn Manitoba, and looking to make a name for himself was a young Sheldon Kennedy. Growing up in a place like Elkhorn meant one thing, a passion for the game of hockey.
Looking to impress at that year's Mac's Midget Tournament, Kennedy was a talented player playing for the Moose Jaw AAA Warriors. His time at the junior level was split between both the AAA Warriors and WHL's Swift Current Broncos. Through his time in junior, as many players do, Kennedy bounced around from numerous teams, as he was a highly touted prospect. Through those times, Kennedy said he leaned on his brother and parents on multiple occasions for support.
"Growing up in a small town and having to leave home at 14 or 15, that's who you learn to rely on," said Kennedy.
When asked what hockey gave him in terms of leadership, Kennedy put it very simply, "Team sports in general prepare kids to work in the world and prepare them for life and working with people. Hockey is a very small part of your life. Team sports set people up for life and provide leadership skills to move forward in life. Leadership isn't scoring goals or getting assists, it's walking the walk and standing up for those who don't have a voice."
The people who walk the walk and stand up for what was right were the individuals that stood out in Kennedy's eyes. So naturally, he would do just that. In 1996, Kennedy gave a voice to those that may not have had one, and started standing up for what was right.
Shortly after becoming an NHLer, Kennedy mustered the courage that none before him had been able to - he relived some of the hardest times of his life by sharing his story of sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted coach and mentor. His experience was something that nobody should ever have to go through - but Kennedy did. Had it not been for his courageous acts, these crimes could still be ongoing. After sharing his story, Kennedy's experiences opened the floodgates for change and gave former players a voice of their own.
"My experience, even though I won the world juniors and a gold medal, weren't the best after dealing with Graham in junior." Explained Kennedy. "The things I learned at a young age set my platform for life and hockey. It's not all about hockey. You're lost when your hockey is done. Hockey has a ton of gifts, but the biggest thing for myself was finding balance."
Kennedy had a career that few others could relate to. His time spent playing junior shaped him into the outstanding citizen he is today; and because of that, it's very easy to see how he became the great leader he is now.
We asked Kennedy if he had any advice for this year's Mac's tournament participants, and he said, "Hockey is a small part of your life and you have to enjoy it. This is something that I believe if you're not loving what you're doing don't do it. It's just a game, enjoy it and take from it what it gives you. Enjoy the positives and love it. Play it with a smile on your face."
Since his experiences in junior hockey, Kennedy has gone on to found the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, which has one mission, stated on the foundation's webpage, www.sheldonkennedycac.ca, "Our multi-disciplinary approach treats abused children, youth and their families; supports their recovery; seeks to stop the cycle of abuse and is dedicated to bringing perpetrators to justice."