SURREY — Some children dream of being a firefighter when they grow up. But not Angus Reid — he wanted to be a fire truck. A red one.
The Canadian Football League hero was a big child, stocky but short, and when other kids teased him about it his cheeks burned bright red.
“Like a giant tomato,” he said.
Being a fire truck made good sense to him. They’re short, wide, bright red and help people. He figured he fit the bill.
“Oh, I got laughed at,” he recalled. “I don’t care. You can laugh, laugh, laugh – it’s my dream.”
Reid shared his inspiring story at a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon last week, on how he learned very early on not to listen to those who would try to shoot down his dreams.
Eventually, he figured out that being a fire truck was not a practical career choice, and took a shine to playing football.
Life threw its first big punch at him when he was 13. His appendix burst, and it was bad. He spent weeks in hospital and, when he thought he couldn’t take any more, concluded he was soon to die and said goodbye to his mom.
Her response was to haul him out of his hospital bed and get him up walking. When he couldn’t, she dragged him. Three days later, he was on the mend and was released from hospital.
It was a seminal lesson for him, to not quit.
Reid also learned that to realize your dream, you need to put in the work. And so he did. When he was confronted with a challenge, be it physical or whatever, he tackled it with fierce determination despite being dismissed as a long-shot to play professional football. He was short by CFL standards and got a relatively late start in the game, in Grade 11.
“I got very good at asking for help,” he said. “Not afraid to ask for help.”
He got stronger, and faster.
He went to Simon Fraser University where he played for the Clan until life threw its second punch. Stricken with gastrointestinal problems, his bowels riddled with ulcers on account of the damage done by his burst appendix, he missed three years of playing football there.
“I went through a depression you couldn’t imagine.”
Reid didn’t know what to do, and almost gave up his dream. Almost. A string of specialists told him he’d had to give up sports for life, but he didn’t pay heed to that and eventually found a dietitian who agreed to work with him.
“Don’t tell me what I can’t do, tell me what I can do, and I’ll do it,” Reid told him.
He came back with a vengeance and in 2001 was selected fourth overall by the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL college draft only to be cut 10 days into training. They told him they made a mistake. It was shattering news, but he didn’t let that kill his dream. He responded by calling every team in the league.
“I sold myself.”
The Montreal Alouettes gave him a chance. Eventually he was traded to the BC Lions and the rest, as they say, is history. Reid spent 13 years with the team as an offensive lineman and in his 200-game career in professional football was a three-time all star, an eight-time team captain and a two-time Grey Cup Champion before retiring in 2014.
But along the way, he developed a gambling problem. His life fell apart as he lost sight of his dream.
“I was spinning. I had no balance,” he said. “I stopped doing what I needed to do to keep my life in order. Everything was out of focus. They say you need to hit rock-bottom before you start rebuilding. Well, for me it came with a snap.”
During a game against Saskatchewan his foot was shattered. Lying in pain on the field, the gravity of his situation came into focus. He was broke, his life in a shambles, and as far as he could see, his career was over.
Figuring he had nothing left to lose as it was the last game he’d play, he got up with help and decided to continue playing despite the catastrophic damage to his foot. It was the third quarter and he figured adrenaline would carry him through.
“The game went double overtime!” Reid recalled.
His foot had to be rebuilt. As for the gambling problem, he entered British Columbia Lottery Corporation’s voluntary self-exclusion program.
“It would be too embarrassing for me to get thrown out,” he said. “That was enough to keep me away.”
Susan Dolinski, vice-president of BCLC, said the province spends about $8 million each year on helping people deal with their gambling problems.
“These are programs that we’re very passionate about, and we’re passionate about them because they work,” she said.
As for Reid, he still wanted to play football. Doctors told him he’d walk but he’d never run again. Again, he didn’t take that to heart.
“I got back to basics.”
He eventually returned to the BC Lions, with a big cut in pay, and sat on the bench as a backup and a mentor for rookie players for a long time before his coach, in a moment of desperation, put him in a game.
“I played the best football of my life,” Reid said. “I had control of my life.”
The world of professional sports is an unforgiving, cutthroat thing, Reid noted. Most players are told when their time is up, he said, but when it came time for him to retire it was on his own terms and entirely his decision. His coach left it up to him.
“Don’t be scared to chase your dreams,” Reid told the Now. “Find support and use it, and do your work.”