Ted Nolan’s first pair of hockey skates were size six, but his feet were size three.
This was just one challenge the former NHL player and coach faced during his upbringing on the Garden River Ojibwa First Nations Reserve, just outside of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
“I still get shivers in my spine when I speak to kids at schools about going to school when you’re hungry, coming home and there’s not too much food in the fridge, not having electricity, bathing in a tub in the wintertime and going to outdoor toilets until you’re 17 years old. It was very tough.”
But he wouldn’t change anything about it, he says. Nolan remembers the good times of traditional powwow dancing and drumming, as well as hunting and fishing.
He is currently the vice-president of hockey operations for the AHL’s Rochester Americans.
Despite having only played house league growing up, Nolan went on to play junior hockey for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
It was the first time he encountered racism.
“I still remember crying myself to sleep night after night for the first two months I was there, wondering why people would treat people from a different race that hateful. What did we do so wrong?”
But he didn’t quit. Never giving up is a message Nolan has always preached.
“Believe in yourself and work. Don’t just believe, you also have to work and persevere. If it doesn’t work one way, then find another way. I always believed will beats out skill.”
Beside motivational speaking, Nolan also gives back through his foundation. He started the Ted Nolan Foundation as a way of paying tribute to his mother. She was killed by a drunk driver in 1981.
“It took me almost 10 years to even discuss it,” he says.
The foundation became a registered charity in 2004, but started as a golf tournament in the late ’90s. The foundation provides scholarships for First Nations women to pursue post-secondary education.