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Ex-Red Wing Kennedy brings serious message to Finals
Posted: Saturday June 13, 1998 02:52 PM
DETROIT (CNN/SI) -- Sheldon Kennedy wants to return to the NHL. He wants to prove to himself that he can make it back and be a better hockey player. But he has something more important to do first.
Kennedy was in familiar surroundings Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, where he spent his first five seasons as a member of the Detroit Red Wings. He is two weeks into a cross-Canada trek on in-line skates to raise money and awareness of child sexual abuse and child abuse.
Kennedy, who turns 29 on Monday, is trying to raise $15 million to help open Anaphe Ranch, a 640-acre preserve south of Banff, Alberta. In mythology, Anaphe is a Greek goddess who is the protector of children. The Calgary-based Sheldon Kennedy Foundation already has the land.
"But we want to be able to build the ranch and also use it as a library, as an educational center for people to come and research the issue of abuse and also set up programs and put money back into programs across Canada," he said.
Actually, the goal is much simpler, Kennedy explained.
"We are trying to make Canada the safest place for kids," he said.
It has been two years since Kennedy came forward and admitted he had been abused for years by his junior hockey coach, Graham James. Confused, Kennedy turned to drugs and alcohol. Those who know him say he lived the way he played hockey -- with reckless abandon.
It was a new Sheldon Kennedy who sat in the interview room at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday night.
"I think that probably all the media here know the way that I used to live my life and still played hockey, and I definitely feel 800 times better now," he said. "I played eight years, and I never lifted a weight or rode a bike in my life. I think now I am in better shape, not only physically, but mentally.
"I feel like I can be dedicated and committed to something now, whereas before, I couldn't make my mind up from one minute to the next. I'd definitely like to give [hockey] another shot, but I think not until I am done with this journey."
Kennedy left St. John's, Newfoundland on May 30th and skated some 600 miles through Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. He has 123 days and 4,800 miles remaining before he reaches his destination in Vancouver.
On an average day, he skates about 30 miles before chatting with local school children or youth hockey teams. After lunch, Kennedy's back on the road for another 30 miles.
"The kids' reactions I get, it is incredible," he said. "When I speak to the kids, I don't speak about the gory details, about the abuse. I try to enlighten the kids about what we're trying to accomplish with our journey.
"And when I speak to parents, I tell them I think we need to educate ourselves, moreso than we do the children, because we are the ones who are going to be asked the question if it ever happens. And I think we have to be prepared to answer because too many times, it is swept under the carpet because people don't understand it."
Kennedy has credibility with the children he meets because he was an NHL player. Drafted by the Red Wings in 1988, he played 183 games over five seasons with Detroit. He was traded to Winnipeg, but claimed in the 1995 waiver draft by Calgary, where he spent the next two years.
In 1996-97, he signed with Boston and had eight goals and 10 assists in 56 games before a broken leg ended his season. The Bruins did not offer him a new contract. While recovering and watching a television program about the space program, he came up with the idea to skate across Canada.
"I was thinking, 'Jeez, we can spend a billion dollars on sending a man to the moon, but we can't speak about the word abuse," Kennedy said. "And that kind of blew my mind."
Obviously, he has a unique perspective. He understands the pain experienced by victims of abuse.
"I think that trying to explain to somebody a hurt or a pain or a confusion in your head, where people can't see what is wrong with you is very different than looking at somebody with a broken leg," Kennedy said. "It is very easy to see that they are hurt. But I think when you look at somebody that looks normal but is running around doing things, I think you have to look at it in a different way."
Asked if he could ever forgive James, who is serving a jail sentence, Kennedy said, "I don't think he has anything to do with my life anymore. But for so long, he did."
Kennedy was to resume his trek Friday in Fredericton, New Brunswick. Anyone interested in contributing to the Sheldon Kennedy Foundation can call toll-free (877) 4ANAPHE. Information also can be obtained on the Internet at www.anaphe.com.
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