The spreading of the COVID-19 pandemic cost Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup champion Brent Sopel some meaningful strides in his work to expand awareness for dyslexia and help those who have the learning difficulty like him through his foundation.
The 12-season NHL veteran, who served as a fearless shot-blocking defenseman, was in the process of setting up a meeting with President Trump before the pandemic worsened.
"They were working on my security clearance," Sopel said over the phone on Tuesday. "Once security clearance gets done, then you go on the books. Who knows when that's going to happen now."
A senator from Louisiana endorsed Sopel for the potential presidential meeting.
"It was just to meet with President Trump and start a conversation," he said. "You take a look at autism, look where autism was 20 years ago. President Trump just passed a $1.6 billion dollar bill for autism. I’m hoping that in seven to 10 years that will be able to happen for dyslexics."
Brent, a new grandfather for seven weeks, noted that one in five people have dyslexia. Per the CDC, one in 54 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.
Sopel was also supposed to meet with Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot and Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker to discuss local legislation involving his cause.
"All that got pushed aside with everything going on," he said. "I'm pretty much the only one in the world with a platform doing what I'm doing. I don't want another kid to feel the way I do every day."
The Calgary, Alberta, native was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia, which prompt reading and writing challenges, shortly after the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup-winning season. The learning difficulty often causes self-esteem issues that can lead to substance abuse, which was his case.
It was an intervention from family members and friends and a stay in rehab that got him back on the right track.
“That’s what saved my life. I had an intervention," Sopel said. "Some family members and some buddies threw me in rehab. That’s the only reason I’m here today, I was not far off of being dead."
He uses an app to monitor his sobriety.
"It’s 1,326 days I’ve been sober," Sopel said. "I had to get sober to be able to learn who I was and be okay with who I am and [that] I struggle with the basic things.”
With three potential large-scale victories for Brent and his foundation on hold due to the pandemic, he's trying to save the lives of others while self-quarantining at his home in Rosemont.
He spends a lot of time talking with people who've reached out to him on social media that are in recovery or trying to quit using, as well as others coping with dyslexia.
“I do a lot of mental health work for people around the world. Put a kid in rehab in Vancouver, working on a couple kids here in Chicago right now," Sopel said.
The person seeking help from Vancouver reached out to Sopel via Instagram and recently completed a 50-plus day stay at a rehab Sopel helped him find.
"Speaking with a dyslexic kid in Idaho at 3 p.m. today," Sopel added.
Helping others helps Sopel temporarily raise his low self-esteem, a product of living the overwhelming majority of his life as an undiagnosed dyslexic.
He recalls that achieving his lifelong dream of winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 did nothing to improve how he felt about himself.
“On the outside, everybody thinks [things are] awesome, but nobody has any idea. When I’m giving speeches I [equate] it to putting a tank of gas in your car. My self-esteem has never been higher than a quarter of a tank.”
Sopel, his ongoing struggle with dyslexia and his foundation are the focus of a documentary currently being made about the former Hawk with hopes to pitch the project to ESPN for a 30 for 30, as well as to other sports networks.
The former blueliner completed a 12-step program as part of his recovery. The final step is to give back. Sopel seems determined to do that for a lifetime.
“All I want to do is help," he said. “I want my legacy to be me changing the world, giving kids opportunities rather than hockey.”
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