By Sam Laskaris
AAMJIWNAANG FIRST NATION—Jason Simon has certainly managed to turn his life around.
The now 48-year-old former professional hockey player, who had a couple of brief stints in the National Hockey League, is hoping his motivational talks will inspire Indigenous youth and help them make the right choices.
Simon, a Chippewa who grew up in Aamjiwnaang First Nation, was in a rather dark place about five years ago when he was battling suicidal thoughts and his alcohol and drug abuse was out of control.
After a few stints in a rehab facility in Guelph, Ontario, Simon can now boast that he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in two years. And he hasn’t used any drugs for 18 months.
“When I finally accepted I couldn’t drink alcohol any more, my brain cleared up,” recounted Simon. “And I had the capacity to do more things in life.”
One of the things Simon is hoping to do a lot more of now is give his motivational speeches to First Nation youth. He’s visited with youth in the states of California, Florida, Oregon and Washington. And so far in Canada, he has only spoken to groups in Quebec.
“I’m just starting to reach out now,” Simon stated, adding that he is trying to make contact with various First Nations across the country.
Simon credits one of his former coaches, Clint Malarchuk, a former NHL goalie, for suggesting to Simon to try his hand at motivational speaking.
“He told me ‘you’re not going to get a better high than talking to kids’,” Simon recalled. “He was absolutely 100 per cent right.”
During his talks, Simon addresses growing up on a First Nation where drugs, alcohol, racism, and bullying were rampant.
Though he would score the odd goal, Simon also managed to have a lengthy professional hockey career, primarily by being an enforcer. He even ended up playing in five NHL games, four with the New York Islanders and one with the then Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes.
Simon also played for 23 different minor pro franchises in a dozen different leagues.
Despite his upbeat outlook on life now, Simon admits that his hockey career continues to take a toll on his health. He has symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), which is a degenerative disease found in people that have taken numerous blows to the head.
Simon had more than 300 fights during his junior and pro careers. He estimates he suffered about a whopping 60 concussions.
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact number because not much was known about concussions even a couple of decades ago.
“We never kept track,” noted Simon. “My trainers would say ‘You got your bell rung and you’ll be okay’.”
And even though he knew things were not quite right, Simon said he wouldn’t complain.
“I was trying to make the NHL,” Simon stated. “I was doing everything I could to do that.”
During his motivational talks, Simon discusses the importance of living a healthy lifestyle and staying focussed on goals.
“It’s exciting for me to be able to touch other peoples’ lives and inspire them,” he exclaimed.
Though he was a pro hockey player, Simon was never a household name. And he said people are often surprised to hear his life story.
“I think there is a little shock factor when I get into my story and I tell them what I’ve been through,” Simon noted.
Besides his motivational talks, Simon also keeps himself busy these days working as a personal trainer (on and off the ice). And he also assists his brother Duffy with Planet Stitch, an embroidery, engraving and custom promotional products company.
Those interested in booking Simon for a motivational talk can contact him via email: email@example.com