Numbers and dates. We all have those we celebrate, be it birthdays or holidays or anniversaries. For Jordin Tootoo, Dec. 19, 2010 will always hold a special place.
On that day Tootoo stopped drinking and, as he tweeted on Monday, he “was gifted a new life.” Now happy and healthy, a married man with a 7 ½-month-old daughter, Tootoo, who signed with the Blackhawks last summer, is grateful and humbled at how he’s turned his life around.
“Well, it’s obviously a huge accomplishment,” Tootoo said earlier this week. “The first few years are pretty tough. But when you have a great support system, by that I mean the guys in the dressing room respecting your personal decision to go that route, it always makes you feel a lot more comfortable around the guys. For me, it was a personal issue I wanted to figure out and get a grasp on it. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my teammates.”
For Tootoo, things had just added up over the years. It started with a family tragedy, when Jordin’s brother Terence died by suicide in 2002. By December of 2010, when Tootoo was playing for the Nashville Predators, he knew he had to change. He entered the NHL/NHLPA’s substance abuse program a few days prior to 2011. Now, if Tootoo can try to help others avoid the rough path he took, he’ll do it.
“You try and hide, thinking you have control of it. For me, it was a number of different things that happened and, obviously, 14 years ago when I lost my brother it kind of started from back then. But for me, I’m grateful for every experience I’ve been through,” Tootoo said. “Growing up as a kid, you go through a lot of different situations and everyone has their own story. For me to share mine, hopefully I can help one or two kids.”
Tootoo is open about what he’s overcome; his autobiography, “All the Way: My Life on Ice,” came out in 2014. Teammate Scott Darling, who fought and won his own battle with alcohol, can appreciate the journey.
“You know, numbers and dates like that, they’re great to celebrate. For him it’s just great to see the way he lives his life,” said Darling, who bought Tootoo’s book on Friday. “I didn’t know him before but I can imagine things weren’t great, otherwise he wouldn’t have wanted to make the change. Just to see how he lives his life today and see how happy he is to come to the rink, he’s always positive and excited.
“Numbers and dates are great to acknowledge but for me, he’s an example to anyone,” Darling continued. “He’s just a positive, happy person, and it’s great to see.”
Tootoo said he’s talked to plenty of others about turning his life around. To him, the conversations aren’t always easy, but they’re important.
“Throughout the league, a lot of guys have similar stories. everyone’s fighting a fight you know nothing about. For me, it’s about being open and honest and being comfortable in your own skin,” Tootoo said. “To have those experiences and to share them among the guys in the room and say, ‘Hey, if you’re going through a tough time it’s OK to talk.’ And that’s what’s great about having a group of guys who are open and honest. It just goes to show you that there’s a lot of trust in each other.
The support continues for Tootoo with the Blackhawks.
“I said to him the next day, that’s not easy to go through that. I’ve never been in that situation but he’s put a lot of hard work into it,” said Brian Campbell. “He still has a good time. We go out for dinner and, that’s the thing, he’s still hilarious. Sometimes people associate being funny with drinking but he’s a lot of fun, has a great personality and he deserves everything like that that he gets.”
Numbers and dates: we all have those which are important to us. For Tootoo, Dec. 19 was the date he got a second chance, and he’s been grateful for every day since.
“You grow as a person and you see life from a different perspective. I couldn’t have imagined being married and having a baby six or seven years ago. It’s brought a lot of joy in my life away from the rink,” Tootoo said. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my teammates. It was the best gift that given to me, bar none, and the past six years have been pretty amazing.”