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Tootoo aims to inspire by telling his story

The former National Hockey League forward was the guest speaker at the Salvation Army’s Journey to Life dinner on Thursday.
Former National Hockey League forward Jordin Tootoo signs a copy of his memoir All The Way during the Salvation Army’s Journey to Life dinner at the Valhalla Hotel and Conference Centre on Thursday evening.

THUNDER BAY – Most people know Jordin Tootoo from his physical play during his hockey career.

However, the thing that the first Inuk player in National Hockey League history is most proud of is where he’s at today.

“The best gift that has ever been given to me is my family,” Tootoo said.

“I never had the opportunity to raise the Stanley Cup, but I get to wake up every morning and see my three daughters walk out of their rooms with a smile on their faces. You can’t beat that.”

The path to becoming an NHL forward and one of the most popular players to ever suit up in the Western Hockey League during his four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings wasn’t easy.

His older brother Terrance, who also played pro hockey, committed suicide in August 2002. Tootoo entered the NHL/NHLPA’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program in 2010 to receive treatment for an alcohol problem.

The 41-year-old, who has been sober for 14 years, talked about his journey on Thursday night as guest speaker at the Salvation Army’s Journey to Life dinner at the Valhalla Hotel and Conference Centre.

“Any time that I get to share my story . . . I feel like it’s relatable to all walks of life and you get to meet a lot of people who have gone through the same journey that I have,” Tootoo said.

“It just shows people that whether you are successful or you are down in the gutter, we all fight a fight that no one knows about.

“I was a professional athlete for over 15 years, but the outside world didn’t know about my story. Once you become comfortable and content in your own skin and you are able to share the story, hopefully it can help one person in the building.”

One of the ways that Tootoo gives back is with the Team Tootoo Fund, which was founded over a decade ago and helps a wide range of charitable causes, including nonprofits that support at-risk youth and address suicide awareness and prevention.

“We all know that mental health is a big topic in society today and people only see what’s on the outside,” Tootoo said. “I’m just trying to lead the way to show other men that it’s okay to be vulnerable, to let your pride and ego down a little bit and communicate.

“That’s probably one of our biggest downfalls as men, especially in a lot of our remote communities. We tend to be closed in and use substances to mask our insecurities.

“For me, I tell people that their story matters and once you become confident within yourselves, you are able to spread the seeds, so to speak. I am truly grateful that I have a lot of great supporters and I’m able to travel across Canada to share my story.”

Gary Ferguson, who is the executive director of the Journey to Life Centre, said that Tootoo’s story made him an easy choice to come in as a guest speaker for this year’s dinner.

“Jordin’s message when he talks about mental health and addiction really speaks to people here in our community where we see a lot of those struggles,” Ferguson said.

“Plus, this is a hockey town and people love it when someone like Jordin comes here. He was a perfect choice for us to fit in with our event.”

The funds raised during Thursday’s dinner, which were still being tabulated as of press time, stay in Thunder Bay and go towards helping to run programs that the Salvation Army offers within the community.

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