Carson Shields's love for the game of hockey may have gotten the better of him.
"I loved the game so much," he said. "I would have eaten nails to play this game."
Despite his talent, Shields was never the best on elite junior teams. He was bounced around the country. Over a four-year period, he played for 10 junior teams in four provinces.
"You feel like a piece of meat, for sure. You do start to question after a while, 'Why am I doing this?'"
His love for the game became even more strained when one night, he was hazed at a rookie party.
He and his fellow rookies were forced to take off their clothes or risk being ostracized. They had to perform a series of dances and jokes, all the while forced to drink a lot of alcohol.
At one point the teens were forced to do the "elephant walk."
"Essentially what the elephant walk is is that you grab the guy's testicles in front of you and your face is essentially in his anus," Shields said. "The guy behind you does that same thing."
"More so than any single act that they did physically, it was the utter betrayal," he said. "I went there and I thought someone would take care of me."
Tailspin into drugs and crime
Shields won't reveal who did it to him or what team it was, but the experience sent him into a tailspin.
He said he was no angel before the hazing incident, but afterwards, something was taken from him.
"It was an innocence. It was a masculinity," he said. "From that day forward, I woke up every single morning scared."
He continued to play with the team that hazed him for two months, then it was off to a new city, a new team.
Still, he carried the burden. He was suicidal and became addicted to painkillers and alcohol.
Then, an injury sidelined his career.
Finally, after a fight at a Winnipeg bar, he was arrested for assault causing bodily harm.
"It was a moment of, 'OK, this is OK, this roller coaster is over," Shields said about finally being arrested.
"It was a relief."
'People who speak up are heroes'
Susan Lipkins, a leading psychologist from New York and the author of Preventing Hazing: How Parents, Teachers and Coaches Can Stop the Violence, Harassment, and Humiliation, said when hazing is severe it can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and debilitating anxiety disorders.
"The people who speak up are really heroes," she said. "They should be supported that way and recognized like that, because it is such a huge thing to do."
Shields's father, Larry, said he and his wife saw many red flags but never knew what happened to their son.
Carson finally told them what happened only a few weeks ago.
Larry Shields said he felt like he let his son down.
"How did I fail in that regard?" Larry said. "I didn't ask enough questions … what did I miss here?"
Taking the power back
As Shields continues to recover his mom, Carole, said it's a story her son needed to tell.
"I knew this was the only thing that was going to heal him," she said. "He'd tried everything else. He was running out of options."
Now 25 years old, Shields is telling his story. He has been diagnosed with PTSD., is taking medication and seeing a psychiatrist. He lives at home with his parents and is now coaching hockey.
"Telling my story lifted a piano off my back," he said. "I said what happened on my own terms. I got the power back."
5 signs your child is a victim of hazing
- Change in pattern of communication with you. Example: being suddenly secretive, connecting much less frequently or contacting you but not really telling you what's happening.
- Adjusting too quickly to new situations and instantly having a new group of friends.
- Reducing contact or avoiding old friends and family.
- Developing new physical and medical problems and in particular, the explanation of the bumps, bruises and pain that does not really match the cover story.
- Developing new psychological problems, like difficulty sleeping, increase in anxiety, phobias, paranoia, depression.