Before a full house of collegiate athletics supporters, local athletes and Red Deer College board members – former NHL all-star goalie Clint Malarchuk was as guest speaker for RDC’s annual scholarship breakfast. He told his story of mental illness and how it affected his life as a professional athlete.
Malarchuk talked about the compassion he has been shown from those who do not understand his illness but also the fear and judgment he has received by some because of his mental state and the stigma, which can so often be attached to it.
“I always ask people that if you don’t understand mental illness don’t worry, no one expects you to, I don’t understand everything else that goes on with other people in their heads,” said Malarchuk. “But just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean you have to judge it.”
He explained he always knew he was different as a child but it wasn’t until much later in life that he was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. However following his diagnosis, Malarchuk survived one of the most deadly and devastating sports injuries known to mankind.
It was the night of March 22nd, 1989 – Malarchuk was the starting goalie for the Buffalo Sabres as they faced the visiting St. Louis Blues. Steve Tuttle of the Blues and Uwe Krupp of the Sabres were scrambling before Malarchuk’s safe keep when the unbelievable happened.
As the pair of players crashed hard into his net, the goalie was taken with them. On the way down, the blade of Tuttle’s skate emerged from the entangled web of players and landed along Malarchuk’s carotid artery in his neck causing him to lose one third of the blood in his body.
After a total of 300 stitches and one very close encounter with death Malarchuk’s OCD worsened. He fell into a spiral of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and alcoholism, which eventually led him to leave the NHL to seek help. Following his departure from the NHL as a player, Malarchuk reached all time lows, to the point where he now has a bullet lodged deeply in his brain after trying to take his own life.
The crowd of over 500 people at the annual breakfast, filled full of promising athletes were silent as Malarchuk told his harrowing story of mental health and he assured it is not uncommon for athletes to suffer from such issues.
Malarchuk recounts in his recently released biography, The Crazy Game how he was likely predisposed to mental illness as his father was an abusive alcoholic – however his illness was greatly amplified following his neck injury and the post traumatic experience stress he encountered.
Over 150 free copies of the all-star goalie’s book were given away during the breakfast, where he stressed the importance of supporting not only the mental health of student athletes but also the importance of being able to alleviate some of the financial strain that can accompany collegiate athletics.
In addition, a number of scholarships were awarded at the breakfast including the 2015 Scott Builders Community Leaderships Awards which went to Brian Prenoslo and Anna Duda.
Prenoslo, a third year forward for the Kings basketball team and Bachelor of Commerce student, was given the scholarship on account of the leadership he showed as co-captain of his team, as well as for his numerous volunteer efforts.
Duda, a third year Bachelor of Education student and member of the Red Deer College cross-country running team was also selected as a recipient for the leadership she has shown not only on her team but also in her home town of Delburne.
Despite a full course load, athletic development, and being a single mother – Duda also volunteers her time in a number of capacities.
“When I made the decision to go back to school a few years ago I knew there would be sacrifices I would have to make,” said Duda. “Trying to balance school, being an athlete, and a single mom I have encountered some difficult financial situations but the assistance of athletics scholarships are truly appreciated at a time when you have no idea where the money is going to come from.”
The annual breakfast helps to raise over $200,000 yearly, which goes towards the support of student athletes and RDC Athletics through the Athletics Leadership Fund.