Just this past autumn Brady Leavold’s life was chaos.
He was fighting a burgeoning heroin addiction spawned by years of abusing Oxycontin, a synthetic version of the drug. His engagement to fiancé Brittany was gone, he was trying to maintain his relationship with his three-year-old daughter Brooklyn and two-year-old son Brode and his hockey career seemed over.
His mortality was approaching.
“I’m lucky to be alive. I feel very fortunate and lucky to be alive,” Leavold said. “Very thankful I had the courage to put myself through rehab because I don’t know if I’d be standing here today.”
Leavold, 24, signed to play with the Killer Bees on Feb. 6 after 2 1/2 years away from the game and over three months of sobriety. Between his last game in the winter of 2009 and his first with the Bees, his life descended into addiction and a broken career.
He had signed to play this season with the Wichita Thunder but “sabotaged” himself in early August and “went on an absolute tear,” using “everything and everything” he could obtain. At that point, Leavold likely had two choices: continue down the path of addiction and possibly die, or get clean and rebuild.
He chose the latter, enrolling last fall for one month at Maple Ridge Treatment Centre in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. While he was there he met other people with similar issues, people who could do more than just offer their sympathy.
One of those people was his roommate, former Washington State and CFL football player Adam Braidwood, once the No. 1 pick in the league’s college draft. Leavold now calls Braidwood his “best friend in the world” and they talk almost daily.
Braidwood, 27, was recovering from an addiction to prescription medicine. Unlike Leavold, however, Braidwood said he was clean and there to manage stress in his life. In 2010 Braidwood was charged with aggravated assault and forcible confinement, then while out on bail was arrested for domestic assault.
The two athletes bonded over their experiences and the pain of knowing they had severely wounded their careers and lives.
“He’s my biggest support I think and he’s the one who really changed my life,” Leavold said. “I can’t say enough about that guy.”
Since Braidwood was in a different stage, he could explain to Leavold how to fight his addiction rationally.
“When you’re on a substance for a long period of time your mind isn’t working properly, so he tended to think with a lot of emotion,” Braidwood said. “For me, I was at a different phase. I wasn’t really emotional about the whole process, so I kind of gave him some perspective and I think that really helped him.”
The hole in Leavold’s resume is gaping.
During the 2008-09 season Leavold played 31 games for the Victoria Salmon Kings in the ECHL and four with the AHL Norfolk Admirals. The next season he played twice for the Tilburg Trappers in the Netherlands before returning to Victoria for two games.
An internet search turns up no answers other than that he signed to play with Wichita this season but never did. There’s no report anywhere about what Leavold did with his career, and it seemed like he fell out of the hockey world.
But what Google won’t reveal what happened to him during that span, Leavold is willing to share.
“What happened is I got hooked on painkillers,” Leavold said. “It took my life from me pretty good. It took hockey, it broke up my fiancé, my kids and everything. I’m a pretty open guy so I really just decided to come back and give this another shot because I forgot how much I love playing hockey.”
During the 2008-2009 season with Victoria, Leavold suffered a serious right knee injury and was prescribed Oxycontin. But when the injury healed, Leavold continued to use, despite a history of never using any drugs up to that point.
He played briefly during the next season with Victoria but failed a physical because of the knee injury. He went to play in the Netherlands with the Tilburg Trappers but decided to leave after two games before a brief return to the Salmon Kings. He was suffering from withdrawals and went back to his hometown of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia and started to see the end of his career.
“It was not fun. I was barely able to walk, just couldn’t sleep,” Leavold said. “It was probably the worst time of my life to be honest with you.”
Leavold did try to get clean at that point and worked as trainer for young players, though he never brought any of his issues to the rink. It wasn’t enough to support himself, however, and he leaned on his family, who he credited for keeping him off East Hastings St. in Vancouver, an area known for its high density of homeless people and drug addicts.
“I did a lot of bad things the clean and sober Brady wouldn’t have done,” Leavold said. “It’s unfortunate but it’s in the past and I’m so happy to be here.”
By last fall, Leavold thought he was ready to return with Wichita. But he wasn’t.
A WELCOMING TEAM
More than three months after finishing rehab, Leavold is fully sober and is relishing the chance he has.
“I’m just so grateful that (Bees coach) Terry Ruskowski is giving me an opportunity here,” Leavold said. “I’m really excited to play and I think the fans are going to like how I play.”
Leavold’s chance isn’t coming without a few strings attached. He’s tested regularly and had to sign an agreement he wouldn’t use again.
The Bees’ bus has no alcohol, and if the team has a get-together with him around, any temptations are kept away. Before he was signed, Ruskowski was aware of the situation and spoke with Leavold to make sure he wanted to get his life on the right track.
“I always feel a guy should have a second chance,” Ruskowski said.
“It’s important to Brady, it’s important to me. It’s important to people to know if you’re serious about changing your life around, I’m willing to give you a chance to do that, to support you in any way I can,” he said. “I may have a gruff outside figure but I love my boys and I’ll do anything for them to make them a better person. Bottom line, I’ll do anything for them.”
Bees players are also aware of what’s going on with Leavold. Some of them, like center Brandon Campos, know better than others.
Campos and Leavold are lifelong friends and grew up together in Port Coquitlam. Campos saw what happened to his friend as addiction took hold and cost him his engagement and career.
“It’s one of those things you wouldn’t wish on anyone. Didn’t really see it coming,” Campos said. “I’ve known the guy his whole life. It’s tough to see the path that he took to get here.”
While Leavold tries to stay clean, he and Ruskowski use the story of Texas Rangers star Josh Hamilton as an inspiration. After his career was derailed by addiction, Hamilton recovered to become an MVP and one of the best players on a two-time pennant winner.
They know that Hamilton’s path, however, hasn’t been smooth. He’s suffered two well-publicized relapses, proving that once addiction gets a hold it never really goes away.
“It’s a possibility (it could happen to Leavold). I don’t know what these guys are going through because I’ve never had those kind of problems but I’m sure they’re going to have a situation where they’re going to be tested,” Ruskowski said. “We’re trying to build his character up and his ability to say no in those different kind of scenarios.”
Like Ruskowski, Leavold is confident in his sobriety but fully aware that one day doesn’t guarantee another. He doesn’t drink and doesn’t use any painkillers, even over-the-counter medicines like Advil. Besides the support group of players like Campos, he is an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous.
There’s also the support of Braidwood, who stays on him daily to stay clean. At 6-4 and around 270 pounds, the aspiring MMA fighter Braidwood could do serious damage to Leavold if he wanted.
“I had some legal problems so I had it made up in my mind I wasn’t going to use and I know he was still craving and stuff,” Braidwood said. “I said if he was going to use he’s putting my recovery in jeopardy and I wasn’t going to be too happy about that.”
More seriously, Braidwood has other concerns for Leavold. And praise.
“I ended up caring quite a bit about Brady by the end of our rehab stint and I wanted to see him do well,” Braidwood said. “He seems really focused and he grew up a lot. I think he grew up more in a month than I see most people grow up in a few years.”
Besides avoiding Braidwood’s wrath there is other motivation for Leavold. There’s the obvious goal of staying clean and get the most out of his life. But there is also the matter of his two kids.
He doesn’t live with them but communicates daily with them over Skype. What he wants is for his children to have their father and to see them as a man and hockey player, not one on the verge.
When he returned to the ice on Feb. 9 it was in Laredo for the Bucks’ Kids Day game. It gave him another reminder of why he needs to stay sober.
“For a first game back to see 6,000 kids it was probably the best way that I could have came back,” Leavold said. “It reminded me of why I’m down here, to set a good example for my kids.”
Brian Sandalow covers the Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees for Valley Freedom Newspapers. You can reach him at (956) 683-4436 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.