OTTAWA - Greg Gilhooly vividly remembers the night he decided to kill himself.
He clambered up on a bridge in the bedroom community of Oakville, Ont., one summer night in 2008 and contemplated the plunge that would set him free of unending torment from the sexual abuse he suffered as an adolescent.
In a sudden moment of clarity, Gilhooly decided he wanted to live, to start afresh after completely losing track of who he was.
The stark recollection in "I Am Nobody," Gilhooly's newly published memoir, is the latest step in a gradual process of telling his harrowing — but ultimately hopeful — story of being molested as a young hockey player by notorious former coach Graham James, and what came after.
For much of his life, Gilhooly struggled silently with the painful secret, prompting bouts of self-loathing and destruction.
"I think if there's one thing that comes out of my story, it's that sexual abuse is about way more than the sexual abuse — it's about what a victim does to him or herself in the aftermath," Gilhooly said in an interview. "And that can often be worse than the crimes themselves."
Growing up in 1970s Winnipeg, Gilhooly was a promising young goalie and an exceptionally bright student. But his family life was strained.
Along came James, the confident, smooth-talking coach who had made a name for himself in junior hockey circles. He became a mentor to Gilhooly, winning his confidence and filling an emotional void in his life. Foot massages after training workouts escalated into flagrant assaults.
It left Gilhooly horribly confused, but unable to walk away from someone who had become an important figure in his world.
"Me? Who was I? I had no idea," he writes. "I thought I did, but not anymore.
"I was now nobody at all."
He went on to earn degrees at ivy league Princeton and the University of Toronto, even playing goal for the venerable Varsity Blues.
In 1997, James was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison for abusing Sheldon Kennedy and another young player, but he served less than half the time.
Kennedy spoke out after making it to the NHL. But Gilhooly wasn't ready to share his story.
An impressive career in corporate law followed school, yet Gilhooly's life spiralled into substance abuse and depression.
After that night on the bridge, he found the nerve to confide in a doctor, then his mother and siblings, who showed love and support. Therapy has helped Gilhooly regain his footing.
He tells of his distress upon hearing through the grapevine that James had received a criminal pardon, and anonymously tipping The Canadian Press in 2010 to the news. The resulting story sparked public outrage; the Conservative government of the day seized upon the issue to make it harder and more expensive to obtain a pardon.
Gilhooly took another difficult step, going to the Winnipeg police.
James pleaded guilty in 2011 to abusing former NHLer Theo Fleury and another victim, but the charges stemming from Gilhooly's case were stayed. The disgraced coach was sentenced to two years, a punishment that was increased to five years on appeal.
Though Gilhooly is pleased the government toughened the pardon system, he is not happy that some of the changes adversely affected those convicted of lesser crimes, where he says the focus should be on more rehabilitation, not less.
Indeed, Gilhooly says he's not a lock 'em-up-and-throw-the-key-away type.
But he sees major failings in the legal system — he refuses to call it a justice system — that have let people off lightly for child sexual assault, a crime he considers "nothing short of the murder of a child's soul."
"The fundamental humanity behind everything gets left out in the cold," he said. "Until we as a society understand that deeper story, until we educate ourselves as to what really is going on with the crimes, and what is happening to the victims and how serious both the sexual assaults and the aftermath can be, until everyone understands that, it's tough to move forward."
Gilhooly welcomes the burgeoning #MeToo movement for empowering people to speak out, but he stresses the importance of ensuring innocent people are not sent to jail.
He acknowledges running from his past for a long time, finding it impossible to talk about what happened.
"And now I'm at a point where I'm not necessarily comfortable, but I did choose to share that inner voice.
"When I decided that night on the bridge that I was going to keep living, I knew that I was going to have to play games with myself. I was going to have to set up things that would prod me to keep working towards recovery, and to keep moving forward, and this book has been the most important aspect of that."
The good days now vastly outweigh the bad ones, and Gilhooly says he has fallen back in love with hockey.
"Things will be different for each and every victim. But I hope that people see this as a story of the ability to persevere," he said.
"I wanted to be clear about how bad things can be, so that people know that things can get that bad, yet you can still make it through the other side."
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