Comebacks on the field have been few and far between for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this season, but one member of the team has turned his life around 180 degrees.
Jordan Matechuk hit rock bottom when he was arrested at the Canada-U.S. border in May 2011 in possession of marijuana and steroids. The former Hamilton Tiger-Cat pled guilty that September and served two months in an American prison.
Since then, he’s committed to helping not just himself, but other people who, like him, suffer from mental illness.
After the Bombers decided to give the fullback and long-snapper a second chance at playing professional football, he told teammates and reporters that he was diagnosed nearly three years ago with depression and bipolar disorder.
He’s been sharing his story over the summer and fall at camps, banquets and other events, and recently received a Heroes of Mental Health award from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Winnipeg region.
Matechuk, who lives in West Kildonan, was honoured as someone who has overcome mental-health challenges and inspired others.
"I had to take a step back," he said of his reaction to being recognized. "It’s an honour. A lot of people out there do a lot in the community and don’t get recognized."
Nicole Chammartin, the Winnipeg region’s executive director, said Matechuk’s influence could be enormous because of his ability to connect with men.
"Most evidence would say mental health issues may arise pretty comparatively between men and women," she said. "But the reality is more women seek help and reach out. Men need role models who demonstrate… there’s a perception of weakness, but you have to be really strong to live with a mental health issue."
Matechuk, who says medication has improved his life drastically, has had several people tell him that they were impacted by his speeches.
"People come up and shake my hand and say, ‘Thank you for the help,’" said the former U of M Bison and Winnipeg Rifle. "Football is an avenue to help people."
After spending most of the season on the practice roster, Matechuk suited up for the Bombers at home against the Ti-Cats last month. He says his Bomber teammates have been nothing but supportive as he continues to turn his life around.
"Football teams come together," he said. "Everyone is very willing to help each other. I lost football before. When you lose something, you might look at it in a different way after that."
Chammartin said her organization is hoping to work more closely with Matechuk in the future.
"We’ve seen Jordan tell his story, and had been really impressed with his frankness and ability to talk so openly about his struggle," she said.
As far as Matechuk is concerned, sharing his story is just as beneficial for himself as it is for anyone in the audience.
"Looking back, a year ago I was in a jail cell," he said. "Being positive and setting goals has a lot to do with where I am now."