Faced with adversity some people break, but then there are those who break records…who do you choose to be?
It’s been a long journey for Roland Vandal, from suicide attempts and drug addiction to mentoring young Manitoba boxers at the Canada Winter Games.
The coach of the Team Manitoba squad travels the country giving talks to young people about his recovery from addiction, and makes the case that boxing can rescue teens who might follow his path.
He says he dropped out of his sport at 13 years of age and descended into a life of drug addiction.
Vandal recalls reaching a personal low in May 15, 2002, the day he went into a violent seizure after drinking a bottle of methadone and woke up barely breathing on a dirty bathroom floor in a cheap hotel.
“That was the wake-up call. I haven’t touched a drop of drugs or alcohol since,” he said during a training session at the Games in Halifax.
After treatment at a Winnipeg detoxification centre, he returned to the sport at 31 and has since become a coach, motivational speaker, foster parent and guide to “kids at risk.”
“I always had the yearning to go back to boxing. It was in my blood,” he said. “It’s changed my life. It gives me focus and direction and a sense of commitment and accountability to the boys.”
Vandal’s website, breakingthechain.ca, says he’s given hundreds of motivational talks.
“Our ultimate goal is to inspire people to make the right choices,” says the site.
Matt Bonne said Vandal’s blunt words help keep him off the streets.
The 15-year-old Manitoba boxer said he’s gone from selling drugs to other teenagers to competing for his province at the Games.
“I turned my life around and I realized this is the life for me. This is the life I’d rather have,” Bonne said.
While the sport may not be genteel, Vandal argues it’s often a bridge from street life to success.
Bonne said being asked to try out for the Canada Winter Games helped him avoid a return to using drugs last year.
“The Canada Games came along as an opportunity and my coach asked me to be in that…I started training again and here I am,” he said.
The young athlete was eliminated in the early rounds of the 56-kilogram weight class but was pleased with his personal improvement in his sport.
“Compared to how I was before I just changed around to a brighter side.”
Julien Carneiro, a 15-year-old boxer from Winnipeg, also argues that boxing pulls teenagers out of street life.
“A lot of the kids on the street get into street life…So boxing is a good way out of that because you get to still fight, which brings out the animal in you,” he said.
Vandal chimes in: “Boxing takes the fight out of the kid. It doesn’t put the fight into the kid.”
Vandal’s body is covered with tattoos, including images of his son and of his website.
It’s a reminder his life of addiction is over, he says.
“I got too much to lose these days,” he said. When a moment of doubt enters his mind, he recalls the turning point, lying on that filthy floor wondering if he would live another day.
“I remember when I was dying on that bathroom floor. I thought of those coaches and those principals and all of those people who helped me,” he said.
“Now I really believe it’s my duty to pay it forward.”
Get in touch with Roland
EMAIL ROLAND – or – CALL 204.479.8995