He should know, especially when it comes to hockey. “I've been playing sports, coaching sports and refereeing sports all my life,” he continues. “Sports kept me out of jail.”
The 55-year-old knows a lot about turning negatives into positives but it was help from organizations such as The Salvation Army, as well as sports, that saved his life.
Playing by the Rules
Jim grew up in an alcoholic family, and he was drinking and doing drugs by the age of 13. He and his three brothers lived in a low-income neighbourhood in Ottawa where drugs were a problem, but his mother protected her four children as best she could.
“My father was never around, so my mom said, 'I'm going to get you into sports and I'm going to get to know your friends' parents,' ” remembers Jim. “She got involved.”
That love of sports stayed with Jim throughout his life. He graduated from Algonquin College in Ottawa with a degree in recreation-facilities management.
Jim coached and mentored youth through sports teams in low-income communities.
“You take kids living in a negative environment and you get them in sports such as football or hockey and, all of a sudden, they are getting recognition for what they are doing within the rules. It keeps them out of trouble,” he explains.
Journey to Sobriety
But despite his mother's best efforts, Jim continued to drink and do drugs until he realized he needed help.
His journey to recovery began in 2007 after his mother died.
“I realized I was on my own now, but my mom was watching me from heaven and that gave me a reason to live,” he says.
Jim sought help at a local addiction centre and they recommended that he also get support from area shelters, including The Salvation Army, where he could get meals, clothing and counselling.
During that first year, however, Jim admits he was at the shelters for the wrong reasons and continued to work long hours and spend all his money on drugs and partying.
After being hospitalized with a serious case of pneumonia for three months, Jim stayed at The Salvation Army Booth Centre in the critical-care unit to recover.
“The staff is non-judgmental and supportive, and there is always someone you can talk to,” says Jim. “You are not alone. You're well fed at The Salvation Army and your rights are respected.”
With that and the help of a number of other local Ottawa organizations, Jim managed to remain clean, stay on his medications for his mental illness and find his own home. He has been drug-free for five years now.
“I've joined The Salvation Army Anchorage Addictions recreation program as a volunteer and assistant coach,” Jim says. “I am five years ahead of the guys in regards to sobriety, so I understand what they are going through.”
Jim also joined the Ottawa Street soccer team as a goalie about six years ago and has gone from playing to coaching.
“People on the team are either from shelters or coming from shelters, or are being treated for a mental illness or addiction and are in programs,” says Jim. “It's more than just soccer; it's about making the right choices and staying clean.”
Jim represented Canada at the Homeless Street Soccer World Cup in Amsterdam in 2015. While they only won one game and placed 44th out of 49, it was a positive experience for him.
“I hung out with guys from other teams who were clean and sober, and I made all sorts of connections and friends,” he says.
As for the future, Jim is considering going back to school. He also wants to continue writing poetry and songs and sharing them at the Ottawa Booth Centre art therapy class, do more stand-up comedy, play sports, get back in touch with his daughter and help others where he can.
“I've gotten more done in the last five years than the 50 before because I'm focused, more motivated,” he smiles.
“The worst thing you can be is without a home and alone in your darkest hour. Organizations like The Salvation Army can point you in the right direction and give you a sense of purpose.”