Pain, defeat, victory

On a wintry weather morning in Saskatoon, Craig McCallum fidgets with hands which have gripped a thousand hockey sticks and fired one million pucks.

He’s telling a story, and words roll without problems. A tradition is misplaced, then observed. A game is cherished, then hated, then loved

That became one among my favored things, was smelling the ice. I loved the complete recreation.Craig McCallum
When he was a child, enthralled via hockey, McCallum — whose destiny covered careers in each the Western Hockey League and with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies — might flop onto the ice and inhale.

“You get truly near, and smell the ice,” McCallum says. “That turned into one in all my favorite matters, was smelling the ice. I loved the complete sport.”

Years later, after little Craig had grown to become too large Craig when the pleasure of hockey have been stripped away, got here a positive summer night that modified his lifestyles. McCallum changed into 17 years vintage, locked within the grip of a drugged, alcoholic stupor, unable to move his limbs, and deserted with the aid of friends. He’d quit an as soon as-promising hockey profession some months earlier, and on this night time, McCallum became terrified.

“Growing up in the reserve, I idea ingesting and doing capsules turned into just something you probably did at a sure age,” he recalls. “That’s simply how it became. Everybody did it. And I knew that at some point, I was going to do it, too. I had no concept it becomes a preference; I had no idea you didn’t need to try this stuff.

“I didn’t have position fashions to appearance up to who didn’t; I never found out it became a desire. I became destined to go down that path sooner or later in my life.”

There’s dysfunction at the Canoe Lake Cree Nation, in which McCallum spent plenty of his kids, however, there’s also splendor. He got easy and performed three WHL seasons after that horrible night time, 5 greater with the Huskies. It took a network attempt to get him there.

His circle of relatives didn’t have lots cash. Hockey is an highly-priced sport while you’re a promising up-and-comer, which McCallum turned into for the duration of his early and mid-teens.

“My chief and council at the time helped my dad and mom with gas cash, rooms, registration costs,” he says. “There have been aunts and uncles who might assist with the device. The shops in Canoe Lake … there were times we have been among cheques and needed money to get to a match, and they’d give us a mortgage. It by no means stopped.

“One of the matters my grandma used to inform me is in no way forget who you’re and where you return from. I consider that all the time. Without those humans in my network, without their help … people could provide their money, contribute to fundraisers, offer to pressure me.”

Then someday, McCallum landed his dream spot on a WHL roster. The reserve child was never far removed from the WHL child.

“You could almost rely (First Nations WHL hockey players) on one hand,” says McCallum, who’s now 28. “It changed into exciting: When I’d play in opposition to those people, there was an unspoken bond we shared. We’d speak to each different, and there has been a degree of appreciation, due to the fact we knew the battle each people had. We had this shared revel in of breaking into the league, playing inside the league, and staying within the league as a First Nations person.

Indigenous kids play plenty of sports on the grassroots tiers, thank you for the component to charitable efforts that make certain sticks, bats and gloves are not unusual formative years revel in.

But the people who work with Indigenous teens in the sports realm say there’s a hassle, and it’s a huge one: A large crack separates the grassroots and elite ranges, and that’s where they fall, tumbling en masse, leaving just a handful of survivors.
“Where we lose Indigenous athletes is while it receives to that higher degree,” says Thunderchild First Nation member Michael Linklater, one of the world’s better 3-on-3 basketball players and a former standout on the university stage with the Saskatchewan Huskies. “It’s not because of the talent. The skills are there.”

McCallum’s tale is instructive: It includes a number obstacles, inner and external, that block such a lot of Indigenous youngsters.

Cultural divides? Racism, both diffused and overt? He skilled them.

Drugs and booze? They almost wrecked him, until he located a special path.

Money? He recollects a day, at a tournament, whilst his father ordered him a complete and nourishing meal prior to a sport and got soup and coffee for himself. McCallum questioned at that, and he later found out the reality: there wasn’t sufficient cash for both of them to have a meal. McCallum’s gratitude to his parents knows no bounds.

He busted thru those choke points, at the same time as occasions spun in surprising instructions. Think of it: Eight combined seasons of foremost junior and college hockey.

“My lifestyles,” he says, “has been kind of a sequence of fortunate occasions.”

* * * * *
Hockey is a joy to McCallum — however, the dating’s been rocky.

Hocky

One of his earliest memories is begging his mother to take him skating, and her having different things to do. So he snuck out the door and traveled down the street on his little skates. He recalls the darkish and the blowing snow.

“You should find little patches where you may as a minimum glide a bit, and that was the excellent issue in the global,” he says.

McCallum was given a late begin in competitive hockey. He first performed formally at age eight, after shifting from Meadow Lake to North Battleford. He broke his mother down, he says, with the aid of consistent begging. She involved he’d get hurt.

He wasn’t superb. He recollects scoring simply one purpose that complete first season.
McCallum moved, after his Grade 3 yr, to his reserve at Canoe Lake. There he performed with kids at his own stage and loved everyday access to the rink. He’d arrive after faculty, his mom could bring his supper, and he’d skate till the rink closed for the night.

He’d watch the older children, attempt to do the matters they did, and he got higher, higher, better.

By the time he reached the bantam degree, it changed into apparent he needed to leave domestic if he turned into going to hold his trajectory. The transportation fees have been prohibitive, so he moved more than an hour away to Meadow Lake, wherein he lived with Dwight King’s hockey-loving family.

King, who later won Stanley Cups, performed with McCallum. King’s older brother D.J. Turned into within the WHL on the time, and would later play inside the NHL.

McCallum is a thinker, adept at watching and studying, and he did that in this household, too: Study, absorb, have a look at.

“(Dwight King) took us all alongside at the journey,” McCallum says. “Any information he was given about education applications or what have you ever, he’d percentage it with us, so we ought to get right of entry to it, too.”

“I don’t want to do this”
Lethbridge selected McCallum within the seventh spherical of the 2004 WHL bantam draft, and he went to North Battleford for midget hockey. He encountered “type, loving and generous humans there,” however it wasn’t an amazing region for him to be. He struggled with the cultural divide.

His community was going through a hard time: drunk riding crashes, suicides, elders passing on. In First Nations communities, the circle of relatives ties increase an extended manner and bring cultural importance. He’d attempt to get domestic for funerals of reserve individuals he seemed near family even supposing, to an outsider, they appeared extra like distant relations. He’d omit practices and games while gambling in a culture that simply didn’t understand.

And I drank every night time, from my birthday to Jan. 28, tried to get as under the influence of alcohol as I may want to. I was calling in sick to high school, skipping exercise due to the fact I changed into hung over.Craig McCallum
“It’s simply how it’s miles in our communities; we’ve closer ties to each other,” he says. “By the cease, I changed into scared to say I needed to move home to a funeral.”

He says some gamers used racial slurs in the locker room — directed now not at him, but at Indigenous humans out of doors the crew circle. He changed into a teen, searching for himself. It hurt him, but he didn’t know the way to cope with it.

By his 2nd yr, tablets, and alcohol — which he’d first indulged in at thirteen — invaded his lifestyles with storm-force winds. Hockey wasn’t amusing. He turned into depressing. He drank, drank, drank. He didn’t need to rejoin the team after the Christmas smash, however, his mother and father stated he needed to — they have been spending money they didn’t have on his hockey hobbies.

On Jan. Eleven, he was given some birthday cash.

train

“It became all I requested for,” he says. “And I drank each night time, from my birthday to Jan. 28, tried to get as inebriated as I may want to. I was calling in ill to high school, skipping practice due to the fact I became hung over. The handiest motive I stopped at the twenty-eighth is I ran out of money. (Drinking) was all I desired to do.

“We completed the 12 months, and after it becomes finished, I said ‘I give up; I’m completed. I don’t need to play this recreation anymore. I don’t want to try this.’ ”

McCallum got an activity at a gas station, running seven days on, and 7 days off. He’d make $seven-hundred at a shot, and spend his off-week drinking up that profits.

The fork in the street
Then, one lousy July night, that miserable existence clobbered him — and modified him. He was out with pals, drinking, smoking weed, and at one factor, they went to a residence for more booze.

“I sat down on the steps, and (a pal) changed into in and out, perhaps two minutes,” he says. “I attempted to rise up, and I can’t move. My body shut down, because of the mixture of alcohol and tablets. But due to the medication, my mind becomes wide awake. I become very, very conscious. My buddies, who were also very under the influence of alcohol and excessive, attempted to raise me, however, I changed into useless weight. They just left me.

“I had no concept where I was and what became taking place with my body. I turned into starting to scare myself. I’d try to rise up and try to move, but even lifting my arm to get onto the railing becomes impossible. Because I changed into wide conscious, I’d begin to assume matters, like what if I turned into behind the wheel of a car whilst my body shut down? What if there have been passengers in the car with me? What if I hit every other car, with harmless people? What if, God forbid, somebody desired to take benefit of me, right now? What if any person desired to hurt me?

“I thought about all these items, and it, in reality, commenced to scare me. I tried more difficult to rise up, to get out of there so I could cross domestic. I take into account attempting so difficult that it harm me, and I commenced to cry, due to the fact I couldn’t carry myself.

“I prayed. I informed the Creator, ‘Just help me get through this night safe, and I’ll never position myself in a state of affairs like this again.’ Shortly after that, I exceeded out. I woke up inside the house, on the couch. I seemed around; there have been humans having breakfast at the desk like I wasn’t even there. I got up, didn’t say a phrase, walked out the door, and walked domestic. I began going over the entirety again, and I remembered the promise I made to myself and the Creator. Ever given that then, I’ve by no means put myself in that state of affairs. I haven’t drunk, I haven’t carried out pills.

“It turned into at that point the whole lot else in my lifestyles commenced turning around. I was looking after my frame bodily, not setting these toxic things into it, and other regions of my existence commenced to balance out. I started out to have the ones lucky events.”

McCallum still didn’t need to play hockey, however, a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League coach scolded him, telling him he was a waste of talent.

Learned

“He stated it changed into a slap in the face to absolutely everyone who just wanted to make the WHL, or just make the SJHL,” McCallum says. “There are people who try for those things and there I was, turning it down, simply due to the fact I felt like it.

“I began to reflect consideration on the information. How usually have you ever heard, ‘Oh, this character may want to have made it here, this individual changed into so exact, however, they got into pills, or alcohol or they had been in love.’ I notion about all of the human beings I’ve heard that approximately in my life — humans from my network, human beings from the north. It resonated with me, and it made me mad because he turned into proper.”

Back on the right track
The season rolled around. McCallum played one very last season of midget AAA hockey in Beardy’s, a First Nations-run crew in which he located his comfort level. He led the league in scoring with eighty-five factors in forty-two video games.

Most of the group turned into Indigenous, such as a handful from his personal network. He became living easy. He was given to questioning and learning about his subculture, which was stripped away in part through his own family’s history inside the residential schools. He learned to be proud. It changed into a fantastic season, on and stale the ice.

Lethbridge had dropped his WHL rights the yr before even as he spiraled out of control, and now the Edmonton Oil Kings picked him up.

He made the Oil Kings in 2007, spent two seasons there, then moved directly to the Prince Albert Raiders for his 20-year-vintage campaign.

He recollects one openly racist incident of notice in the course of his 3 WHL seasons, in Edmonton.

“I grabbed a roll of tape,” McCallum remembers, “and (a crew veteran) tells me to get my fingers off that, you dirty Indian. It broke me. I notion (that stuff) changed into over. At that level, and after my interactions with that group to that factor, I’d a concept it changed into over — that I wouldn’t experience that anymore inside my personal dressing room. But nope. That’s now not the way it’s far.”

McCallum told a trusted veteran what had occurred, and the Oil Kings treated the matter.

He became overwhelmed two seasons later after they traded him to Prince Albert on the cusp of his 20-year-vintage marketing campaign.

I grabbed a roll of tape . . . And (a team veteran) tells me to get my palms off that, you dirty Indian. It broke me. I idea (that stuff) became over.Craig McCallum
He recollects making the somber pressure from Edmonton to Prince Albert, hating every kilometer, and presenting at a Tim Hortons in North Battleford. He ordered an espresso and muffin, got to the window, and turned into informed the humans in the front had paid for his order.

It was a small moment, a tiny piece of kindness, but it modified his outlook. Today, he’ll sometimes pay for the next character’s order, understanding what it would imply to anyone having an awful day.

That one act was given him thinking about the positives: No different WHL crew changed into in the direction of his home network, and his mother and father, pals, the circle of relatives ought to watch domestic video games.

From there, his attitude changed. He loved the team and the town because it turned outscored a profession-first-class 27 goals and 72 points in 72 games, thriving the whole time.
A scholar and an athlete
Then it becomes on to the U of S Huskies, and the first-rate experience of his hockey life: He played on national-caliber groups, traveled to Spain for the 2015 FISU Games, loved his research and the men he acceptable up with.

“The players were all educated, and there has been a sure level of recognition within that dressing room toward me, and who I turned into as a First Nations person,” he says. “They understood what it intended to be First Nations and the dynamics.

“It’s like a brotherhood, extra like a circle of relatives, in a more potent experience of the phrase, than I’ve felt with any team. People usually say your teammates are your circle of relatives for the following yr, but I’m in no way felt that. Getting to the Huskies, it didn’t count number how small, how tall, what color you were. We were all equals there.”

Race and culture problems apart, McCallum stresses that many stuff he encountered isn’t confined to Indigenous human beings. Lots of families don’t have the available cash to position their kids into excessive-level hockey. Other youngsters conflict with substance abuse.
But as Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand notes, “in First Nations, we’ve sort of had it rough for a while.”

McCallum hurdled the crack wherein others have fallen, and he’s moved toward his tradition. He pauses whilst asked what he’d tell a young Indigenous child these days, looking to move into the elite-stage game.

“Cultural boundaries and paintings perspectives conflict whilst you’re no longer in surroundings that have constructed round information and looking to study,” he says.

“There’s going to be people obtainable who don’t apprehend who you’re, and what its approach to be First Nations. But that’s k. Push through it. Instead of internalizing that, letting it eat at you, speak to any individual. Talk to family, pals, humans you appreciate. Ask them to help you cope with it. Lean on them. You don’t have to go through it alone. Once I commenced researching that, the whole thing got better and higher over the years.”

Today, McCallum works as an advertising expert at Al Anderson’s Source for Sports in Saskatoon and performs senior hockey.

He played AAA hockey, he played in the WHL, he played at the college degree. Those are the sorts of men who make a difference.Mark Arcand, Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief
Arcand, the Saskatoon Tribal Council chief, says McCallum’s final results is a high-quality blueprint for aspiring Indigenous athletes.

“He played AAA hockey, he performed in the WHL, he performed on the college stage,” Arcand says. “Those are the sorts of guys who make a difference. Did he make it to the professionals? No. But he’s content material with what he’s got proper now. He’s satisfied. And that’s appropriate. He’s got an amazing job, he’s paying his own payments, and he’s no longer counting on the machine. He’s taking care of himself, and that’s what we want for humans.”

McCallum’s scary, drugged-up night as a 17-12 months-vintage is each near and a long way away. It occurred a long time in the past but occupies a crucial location in his story. He won’t forget it, just like he received overlook what he did to upward thrust above all of it.

“The rewards, the things I got to look and do due to hockey … I was given to drag out those investments I made in myself,” he says. “I performed hockey for my u. S. A. In Spain. I got a schooling. I played in some countrywide championships. I performed all over Western Canada, the northwest United States, all over Canada, because of hockey. If you’re willing to put within the work, you could do anything.

“I’m sincerely content with where my existence’s at, and the whole thing I’m doing.”