This article discusses depression and suicide. Please refer to the end of the article for resources on campus.
Former NHL All-Star and 12-year veteran goalie Clint Malarchuk is known for suffering one of the worst injuries in professional sports history: An accidental collision with another player’s skate during a 1989 NHL game against the St. Louis Blues severed Malarchuk’s carotid artery and jugular vein, nearly killing him. However, this incident is far from the only life-threatening obstacle Malarchuk has overcome.
Since he was a kid, Malarchuk has suffered from extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the Los Angeles Times. At age 12, he spent a month in the hospital for extreme anxiety triggered by sometimes-violent fights between his mother and alcoholic father, according to a 2016 interview with Bleacher Report.
According to Malarchuk, both these issues prevented him from having a functional social life; rounds of therapy and antidepressants did nothing to soothe him. Hockey, however, did.
“I was crying all the time, upset at everything,” Malarchuk told Lohud.com, part of the USA Today network, last October. “Hockey was the only time I felt free — the only time I wasn’t anxious, depressed.”
Malarchuk became one of the NHL’s most accurate goal stoppers, posting an 89 percent career save rate. Malarchuk also became one of the NHL’s toughest competitors, often playing through nagging injuries; at the time of his near-fatal injury, he was playing with a fractured vertebra. He also professionally rode horses bareback on the side, which earned him the nickname “The Cowboy Goalie.”
Just 10 days after losing 1.5 liters of blood after his notorious injury, Malarchuk returned to the ice to play for the Buffalo Sabres. Though he was diagnosed as physically ready, he said he was mentally unprepared to face trauma so soon.
“We don’t process trauma,” Malarchuk said to Lohud. “We have to be tough…I went 100 percent. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Goalies are supposed to be the rock of the team and mentally toughest.”
In the wake his near-fatal injury, Malarchuk experienced severe nightmares of a skate blade coming at him, according to the Phoenix Star. He didn’t sleep for the first 10 days after returning to the rink. He began to abuse alcohol and painkillers to self-medicate and “suffer in silence,” as Malarchuk said
Malarchuk’s demons reared their heads on Oct. 7, 2008, when he drunkenly shot himself in the head with a rifle in front of his wife. Miraculously, he survived the suicide attempt, but emerged with a bullet permanently lodged in his skull, just millimeters away from his brain.
“I just wanted the mental torment to stop,” Malarchuk recalled in his interview with Bleacher Report. “I basically stayed up all night and into the next day, just drinking and feeling like my mind was spinning right out of my head.”
After this second brush with death, Malarchuk went to rehab for six months. He told Bleacher Report that numerous sessions of one-on-one counseling helped him accept his illnesses as a part of him and he learned how to better treat them. In November 2014, he published his autobiography, “A Matter of Inches — How I Survived in the Crease and Beyond.” Since then, he has gone on worldwide book and speaking tours.
As a public speaker, the now-56-year-old Malarchuk addresses the most painful events in his life to crowds of hundreds and fights to end the prevalent stigma surrounding mental health, especially with men.
“As men, we’re taught not to show any emotion, to tough it out in hard times,” Malarchuk said at a 2016 fundraiser for the Mental Health Association of Westchester. “But it’s not about being tough; it’s about being honest and saying it’s ok to ask for help. Men don’t like to do that, and it’s something I want to help try and change.”
After escaping two brushes with death, he has said he’s finally found his purpose.
“This time, I made better use of my second chance,” he said at the Yorkton Terriers’ annual sports dinner in 2017. “I’ve got real purpose in my life now. I’m very grateful for feeling and being where I am today.”
To access mental health resources, reach out to Counseling and Psychiatric Services at 202-687-6985, or for after-hours emergencies, call 202-444-7243 and ask to speak to the on-call clinician. You can also reach out to Health Education Services at 202-687-8949. Both of these resources are confidential.
Carter Owen is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. THE HIDDEN OPPONENT appears every other Friday.