May 3, 2012
Wrong turn goes right for Bombers hopefulDepression took Matechuk to lowest of lows
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI AGENCY
Jordan Matechuk was getting used to carrying heavy weights on his back.
While working on Alberta oil rigs this past winter, that’s exactly what he’d do when there wasn’t a gym in sight.
But these days the Winnipeg Blue Bombers hopeful is standing a little straighter, walking a little lighter.
Last week, Matechuk went public about his battle with depression, and it was probably the best decision he’s made since waking up on the cold, hard floor of a jail cell and realizing he needed help.
“I’d been away for a year and hadn’t talked about it,” Matechuk told the Sun, Thursday. “It felt like a big release to be able to speak about the illness and what I’d gone through. It really helped me this last week.”
Sounds like it helped plenty of others, too.
“Unbelievable,” is how the 26-year-old described the reaction. “I’ve been getting random people all across Canada and the U.S. that read the article and have been sending me messages about how inspired they are.
“A professional athlete’s not supposed to show any kind of weakness, mental or physical. I don’t view it as a weakness. I view it as just life. When people send me those messages it gives me strength.”
Originally from Yorkton, Sask., Matechuk this week got a reminder of how serious depression can be, with the suicide of former NFL star Junior Seau.
“Hopelessness,” is how Matechuk described the condition. “That’s what it is. You battle for your life. I was in a fight for my life.
“It’s like a time bomb went off in my head. I was always very motivated and happy. It’s a disease. So you never know when it’s going to attack.”
You don’t have to look south of the border or at athletes to find the grim cost of it, either.
“Between the ages of 10 and 49, in boys and men, suicide is the No. 1 killer in Canada,” Matechuk said. “And it’s fourth in women. It’s a staggering stat.”
That’s one of the messages Matechuk took to his hometown last weekend, when he was a guest speaker at a fundraiser, days after his public revelation.
“They were really confused,” Matechuk said. “I always had a smile on my face. I was always hiding it. It was fake.”
The standing ovation he received after the speech wasn’t.
“It was unbelievable. There were a lot of emotions going on in the room. I had multiple people come up to me. To look at them and see them speaking about it, I could see the release from them to be able to talk to me.”
It’s exactly the kind of help Matechuk wants to give, what he sold the Bombers on when they wondered why somebody busted for steroid possession a year ago should get a second chance.
Making the Bombers as a fullback and special teamer would give him the platform to talk about an illness that’s all too often locked in the closet.
Twice a day you’ll find Matechuk in the weight room. But to really see his determination, you had to have been on the oil rigs with him.
Working 12-hour days, Matechuk would find time to work out, often in the middle of the night, lugging 250-pound giant spoons, called bailers.
“I’d put ’em on my back and lunge-walk across the lot,” he said. “Everything there weighs over 100 pounds, so you lift it, carry it, drag it around and make circuit training.”
Sounds tough — but at least it’s not jail.
That’s where Matechuk found himself last May 31, after trying to cross the border at Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., with a stash of steroids and a small amount of marijuana.
On his way from his home in Winnipeg to Hamilton’s training camp, the former Winnipeg Rifles junior should have been on top of the world, dating his childhood sweetheart and going into his fourth year of pro football.
But instead of following doctor’s orders to stay on his anti-depressant medication, he was self-medicating his way to rock-bottom, and he quickly realized it.
“As soon as I was thrown in the holding cell,” he said. “Not having freedom. Just being in a cold jail cell, sleeping on the floor for three days.
“You’re delusional. You don’t really understand what’s going on with you. You don’t know why you feel the way you do.”
Matechuk pleaded guilty and served another 75 days in jail.
The worst time of his life — and the best.
“I was a guy dealing with a lot in his life that took a wrong turn that ended up at the border,” he said. “But that’s the turn I needed to take in my life. That wrong turn led me in the direction I needed to be.”
It led him back to Winnipeg, too, where he and his longtime girlfriend have bought a house.
And where a football team is giving him another chance to put the oil rigs, and the heavy weight of the past, behind him.
“To be here ... I have every reason to be gleaming right now,” Matechuk said. “It’s under control.”