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Olympian Paul’s Story

I’m an Olympic Gold Medalist. I never thought I’d be homeless.

Training for the Olympics is hard. But being homeless and struggling with an addiction, not knowing where that game will end, that’s harder. CMHA saved my life. I don’t know where I’d be without them.

I knew I had mental health issues from a young age. But being a great athlete and having the persona of “the funny guy”, saved me from teen suicide. Athletics was my getaway. I was good. Good enough to become a professional hockey player. But all that changed at 15 when I shattered my leg during a game.

I needed multiple surgeries to save my leg.

I also needed morphine and OxyContin to manage the pain. It dulled the pain in my leg. It also dulled the pain in my brain.

I became addicted. But I functioned. I got married young, had 3 children. Got divorced. Bounced around in employment. Still loved and played hockey. Addiction came in and out of my life, but it never really left. In fact, it followed me for decades.  After years of surgeries, constant infections and a knee replacement, the pain from my injury was still so bad that on June 8, 1999, I made the decision to have it amputated above the knee.

As part of my rehabilitation, I got involved in sledge hockey with the Markham Islanders. I was hooked from the minute I got on the ice.

Amazingly, I was recruited by the Captain of Team Canada after my very first game. Team Canada needed a goalie, and at 41 years old, I became the oldest rookie in the history of the Canadian Paralympic Games.

I trained hard against able-bodied shooters and, in 2002 landed in Salt Lake City for the Winter Olympics. Team Canada placed 4th. It made us hungry for the 2006 Games in Torino.

Hockey glory finally came for this goalie in the form of a 3-0 victory over Norway, and an Olympic Gold Medal around my neck.

Maybe you think my addictions were replaced with my drive and passion for hockey? That Olympic success banished mental illness? You’d be wrong.

Paul Rosen Hockey CardYou see, having medication in your system is okay in the Paralympics. And I’m a great hider. So addiction followed me. And everything got much, much worse after the Vancouver Games. The pressure to win gold at home, and after the men’s and women’s teams won, was immense.

We lost. And I was lost.

I retired. My relationship fell apart. My sponsorships dried up. The big money stopped coming in. I started drinking and using as much as possible. During the day I was on stage, giving motivational talks to enraptured audiences. The rest of the time I was doing drugs.

On January 30, 2019, I was featured as part of Bell Let’s Talk Day. I was in such a dark place, that evening I came home to my tiny, dark apartment, and took every pill I had. I laid down on my bed to die.

Suicide is about being in such a dark place that all you want is for the pain to stop. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted to stop hurting.

30 minutes later … I wasn’t dead. I panicked. I drank something that made me throw up, and called for help. I spent weeks in an inpatient mental health program. I battled my demons. But when I was released, I had nowhere to go.

I couch surfed, I stayed with my daughter, I lived in my car. I was clean and sober for the first time in decades, but because of COVID, I was unemployed, broke, and homeless at 61 years old.

That’s where CMHA York and South Simcoe comes in, and where you can help.

My addictions counsellor referred me to the Home First programCMHA helped me find a home. They provided a rent subsidy, they moved in furniture, and for the first few months, gave me grocery gift cards.

When you make a gift to CMHA, you unlock a world of opportunity for someone like me.

CMHA has given me the chance to have what so many people take for granted – safety and security. When I closed my apartment door for the first time, I literally said out loud, “My God, I’m home.”

Now I’m working 1 on 1 with a CMHA Case Manager on my recovery-focused goals. Every day I’m making sure my mental health is a priority.

I couldn’t do that if I didn’t know where I was going to sleep every night.

Your donation ensures young people have easily accessible mental health services like MOBYSS – Ontario’s first and only youth mobile mental health clinic – something I so desperately needed as a teenager, that those of us who have lost our jobs during the pandemic have gift cards to buy groceries, or that people like my daughter, who are supporting loved ones with mental illness and addictions, have support groups they can join for information, understanding, support, and resources.

I never thought this would be my journey. I’m pretty sure no one does. But I’m so grateful for people like you who support CMHA – you are truly, honestly transforming lives. You transformed mine.

With gratitude,

Paul Rosen, #57

P.S. Never give up. If you are in crisis, please call 310-COPE (2673) or 911.

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