Theo Fleury (second from right) walked alongside dozens of survivors to raise awareness.
WINNIPEG — The walk from the town of Russell, Manitoba to Winnipeg took five days for supporters of Victor Walk, a group working to de-stigmatize mental health issues and sexual abuse.
The journey for Theo Fleury to become a leading voice for survivors of childhood trauma and sexual abuse, has taken a lifetime.
“We weren’t put on this world to suffer in silence,” Fleury said.
On Saturday, Fleury and over a dozen supporters walked from the Forks to the Manitoba Legislative Building to raise awareness for children who have suffered traumatic events or have been sexually abused. Fleury himself detailed sexual abuse he suffered during his junior hockey career, in his 2009 autobiography, “Playing with Fire”.
Graham James, Fleury’s head coach and abuser, has since been convicted for a number of sex offences. James most recently pleaded guilty in June 2015 to additional charges, to add onto his five year term.
Fleury, most known for his fearless play on the ice, started Victor Walk three years ago, when he and his team trekked from Toronto to Ottawa, to send a message to abuse survivors that they are not alone and that help is available.
“It’s about safety. And it’s about giving people permission to tell their stories,” Fleury said on Saturday.
“It’s a space where they’re not going to be re-victimized, where they’re going to be believed.”
Fleury himself said he realized after his retirement that his life would take a different path from his previous career in hockey during a book signing. He said he noticed a man clutching a copy of the autobiography and instantly knew how much his story being made public meant to others who have experienced abuse.
“He gets to the front of the line, puts the book on the table, looks me in the eye and says ‘me too’. And that’s when I knew what the rest of my life was going to look like,” Fleury explained.
Many walking alongside Fleury are survivors themselves. One of the organizers, Janet Renault, said they hope the work of Victor Walk will lead others to open up or at the very least, understand there is a safe space where they can share their stories.
“Your story will set you free. And the more you can talk about it – you’ll become empowered.”