I think as hockey fans and people of the hockey industry, we can be guilty of at least one thing. Once a player comes through your program or league, unless they go on to an illustrious pro career, you kind of lose track of them or unfortunately in some cases, forget about them.
That’s the case of former Swift Current Bronco and Kelowna Rocket, Brady Leavold, or at least it was for me. However, the way our lives have paralleled, it should come as no surprise that he’s come back on my radar in a big way.
Right here and now we should probably post a disclaimer that some readers may find the following story disturbing. It details sexual abuse, graphic drug use and incarceration. There are also instances of foul language.
However, I hope you don’t find it disturbing. I hope you find it inspirational and a handbook for finding your way back from the depths of hell should you find yourself there.
I can tell you that speaking from Muskoka, ON on my program The Recovery Hour, Brady Leavold didn’t waste any words. His 10-minute interview packed a wallop.
Here’s how he began.
“Recovery’s been my story for the last 11 years,” Leavold shrugged. “That’s when I first went into Recovery. I’m now 33. I’m coming up to one year next month, away from all the hard stuff. Jail for three years … and things were looking pretty grim. Lots of suicide attempts, a ton of overdoses, and not a lot of hope to say the least.
“I knew that I needed to make a change and I didn’t know which direction I was going to go. I just knew that I had to get back into hockey again so I started a podcast. Hockey has saved my life, Rod. I would agree with you that hockey and recovery are intertwined.”
They are. Hockey’s taken some hard knocks over the last few years and that’s bothered me a great deal because the best people in the world have hockey in their backgrounds.
But let me back up a bit. Leavold is from Port Coquitlam, BC, and played with the Swift Current Broncos from 2004-2007 and finished up his ‘Dub career with the Kelowna Rockets in 2007-08 where he tallied 27 goals, 69 points, and 138 PIMs. Quite a hockey player.
Right in that 2004-2008 era, I was the Voice of the Regina Pats and the Pats and Broncos were embroiled in some incredibly hostile playoff series every spring. (The RCMP were involved in some of them, but that’s a story for another day).
Anyway, I remember Leavold as a monumental pain in the ass to the Pats. Broncos coach Dean Chynoweth had Brady playing in absolutely every situation, PP, PK, 5-on-5, first minute/last minute, and he had a motor that just wouldn’t quit. Some years we came out on top while in other years, they did. Leavold was always a factor in each and every game.
Little did we know that years later, we’d end up on the same team in life.
“Playing for the Swift Current Broncos, I dealt with a lot of mental health issues,” Leavold admitted. “I quit pretty much every year I played because I was just mentally ill. I was sexually abused at a young age and I never told anybody. I didn’t deal with it and carried it with me everywhere I went until just recently. Getting honest and cutting the crap was really just what I needed to do. Honestly, it’s an honour just to talk to you because I shouldn’t even be here today, with the number of times I overdosed and the lifestyle I lived. I’m just a grateful guy sitting here trying to do the next right thing.”
I’m not sure about you, but I’m hanging on Brady’s every word. I’m coming up on six years sober myself and now working as a Recovery Coach in Sports, Entertainment & Military, I can tell you what Brady is saying is no BS. This kid finally gets it.
“Throughout my teenaged years I was ‘Brady the Hockey Player’ and hockey players don’t do that kind of thing,” Leavold continued. “But Addiction runs rampant everywhere we go, which includes the hockey world. I did the average drinking but I was always the one staying up later and encouraging everyone else to drink. I knew kind of early that I had issues.”
Stats show that the vast majority of teens will try alcohol and some will experiment with drugs, but HEROIN? That’s harsh. How did that happen?
“It was a process,” Brady continued. “It started with ecstasy, then I got into the cocaine. After my last year in the Western League, different teams did interventions on me for drinking and drugs and I dealt with different psychologists but it was after my first-year pro when I was under contract with Tampa Bay, I blew my knee out and that led me to Oxycontin.
“That took me from somebody that was using recreationally to someone who had to have it every single day and if I didn’t have it, I couldn’t do anything else. It didn’t matter about my kid, it didn’t matter about hockey. Gradually I made the switch to heroin because the Oxy prescription ran out and my dealer said, ‘Hey, try this’.”
You could reasonably say that the story concludes here with The End. But in truth, it’s just the beginning. The use of “H” took Brady Leavold on the Highway To Hell. Fast.
“This is my life, this was my story,” Brady sighed. “If anybody knows the Vancouver area, I was homeless on Hastings for 10 months before going to jail for two years. Then I made the move to Ontario and ended up in jail there for another year.
“I was robbing liquor stores to feed my addiction and doing petty crimes, and doing things the real Brady Leavold would never do. You never think it’s going to happen to you whether you’re a pro hockey player, or a roofer, or a firefighter like my Dad. We are all vulnerable to it if we allow ourselves to be. It just happens so quick.”
There were a few instances in this interview where a voice in the back of my mind said, “This is a great thing for young hockey players to hear”. Especially the part about it happening so quickly. Because it does.
“I’m 33 years old but it feels like yesterday I was wearing a Kelowna Rockets jersey and playing on a line with Jamie Benn,” Brady admitted. “I was sitting with his family the night he scored his first NHL goal in Vancouver and two years after that I’m homeless.
“People are going to listen to my podcast and say ‘Holy smokes that guy is a little rough around the edges’. You know what? Darn right I’m rough around the edges. Homelessness, jail, it’s been rough. I did every drug … heroin, crystal meth, coke. If it was around, I was putting it in my arms. I was a terrible, terrible drug addict. I thought there was no coming back from where I was. So for anybody who’s watching this, if you’re ready to get honest and to accept help, I truly believe that anybody can do this.”
To me, the next part of the interview may hit the heaviest. It’s the crappy part of living a public life. Addiction doesn’t care who you are but society and the media do and if you slip up, everybody’s going to know about it.
“I’ve got a lot of guilt,” Leavold continued. “When I got sentenced to jail, it was front-page news in the Vancouver Province and Sun. ‘FORMER HOCKEY PRO SENTENCED TO 21 MONTHS FOR ROBBERY’ with the story of how I took a taxi cab at knifepoint. That’s not pretty stuff. It’s super embarrassing and I feel horrible about it. It doesn’t even feel like it was me but it was, and I have to accept responsibility.”
We do these things when we’re active in our addiction and people think we could care less about it. But the opposite is true. These are things you’d never do in your right mind. The disease is making you do it but few people are able to separate the two. That’s why I felt it was important to get Brady’s story out and make a difference if we can.
“I’m huge into service work, of any kind,” Leavold said of his recovery. “Give back and don’t expect anything in return and the things you get back will be just incredible. It all comes down to being honest because if you’re not ready to do that, you’re just wasting everybody’s time. That’s what I was doing for 10 years.
“That’s why I started the Puck Support Foundation, from hearing stories of players who weren’t as lucky as me, and lost their lives due to addiction. Maybe we can’t save them all but if we can save one life and educate the next generation of hockey players, it’ll prepare them for life.”
So what’s Brady Leavold into now?
“The Puck Support Foundation is a bunch of us former pro and junior guys who’ve got together. It’s guys like Dean Ewen, Dani Probert (Bob Probert’s wife), Brent Sopel, the list goes on. We’re just getting ready to do our launch. Hockey saved my life once again, and the people of the hockey community have been so great supporting my Recovery and everything I’m doing.
“The podcast has been therapeutic for me. I’ve had on Theoren Fleury, Sheldon Kennedy, Dani Probert, Doug MacLean, and honestly, I’m extremely proud of myself. I’ve realized I can’t do this on my own anymore, and I never could. I made all the excuses, I know all the games, the lies, and manipulation. I did absolutely all of it.”
It’s a tough story but to me, it’s an inspirational one, and I’m extremely proud of Brady Leavold.
It’s just another story of why the WHL is so great.
The Rod Pedersen Show airs daily at 12 pm ET on Game+ TV Network in over 2.3-million homes across Canada and the USA. It’s available in Manitoba on Bell/MTS Cable, in Saskatchewan on SaskTel Max, in Alberta & BC on Telus Optik TV, and in Washington and Oregon states on TDS Cable. It also airs on YouTube Live, Facebook Live, and RodPedersen.com/ListenLive.