Down for the count: how one man KO’d alcoholism

By Kyle Jahns

(Originally published in the West Central Crossroads, June 17, 2015)

Berkley Jodoin looked like any other traveller at the Calgary International Airport, but that couldn’t have been any closer to the truth. He sat on a bar stool frequently sipping his beer in the Chili’s lounge as he awaited a connecting flight to Vancouver Island. Jodoin was aware; after he left that restaurant – and after finishing that final pint – nothing was going to be the same.

“I got drunk in the airport in Calgary and that was it,” Jodoin said as he vividly looked back at that monumental day on July 10, 2014.

Those in the lounge around Jodoin might not have noticed, but internally Jodoin was a wreck. He was terrified of what was to come. Jodoin did not know what was going to happen after boarding that plane and he was fearful because he had no control over the situation. Jodoin left the lounge aware of the fact that he just had the last drink of his life. After his plane touched down on Vancouver Island, Jodoin went to a treatment centre to tackle his alcohol addiction.

Leaving his wife, Jenny, and his two girls Milly and Emma – ages seven and four – behind for a month-long stay at a treatment centre was the hardest thing Jodoin ever did in his life.

“I felt like a little boy when his parents drop him off at Kindergarten for the first time. I just wanted to grab onto my wife’s leg and beg her to take me home,” Jodoin said.

Jodoin didn’t know it at the time, but he was actually making the best decision of his life. Not only was it the first step in improving himself as a person, but his actions benefited his community of Leader, Sask. and created a sporting renaissance. Had Jodoin never received treatment he never would have taken up boxing. He never would have become an inspiration for his community, and the Sandhills Boxing Club would have never been born.

Prior to boxing, Jodoin was a well-respected hockey player in town. He was the captain of the Leader Flyers senior hockey team that was never scared to drop the gloves. He played senior hockey throughout the West Central Saskatchewan region, along with a stint of junior ‘A’ hockey in Alberta with the Bonnyville Pontiacs. The 33-year-old was no stranger to the hockey circuit as he had been part of it for years, but it started to catch up to him.

“There’s another side to hockey that a lot of people don’t know about. It’s the boys having fun. The boys have a lot of fun, you know. I love the sport and I love the guys that I played with. Hockey molded me into the person I am. I’ve been a hockey player for 25 years. But the lifestyle did get me. I wouldn’t say it turned me into an alcoholic, but it definitely didn’t help,” Jodoin said.

Jodoin would finish a hockey game and go out for a couple of drinks with his teammates. The team would win a playoff game and then go out for more drinks to celebrate to the point of intoxication. It was fun at the time, but it caught up to him.

“It’s a lifestyle that’s not conducive to an addictive personality. There’s no drug and alcohol culture in boxing. It’s discipline and commitment. It isn’t in your mind to celebrate with whiskey after a good fight,” Jodoin said.

Jodoin and his wife purchased a new home and he needed to take a physical in order to get mortgage insurance. The doctor determined that he had liver damage and the company was not going to insure him. After more tests in Saskatoon, Jodoin was told the news that started the shift in his lifestyle.

“You’ve got to stop drinking or you’re going to die,” the doctor told him, giving him two years to live.

Jodoin didn’t believe it at first. He knew he drank too much and would sometimes get out of control, but that was normal to him because the people around him did the same thing. Jodoin took the doctor’s comment seriously and he decided he wouldn’t drink any more. But the idea of quitting alcohol and the action of it are two different beasts. Jodoin figured he would just stop, but found himself drunk once again six days later. That’s when he realized alcoholism had taken over his life and he made the call to receive world-class addictions support from Cedars Residential Treatment Programs.

Jodoin will never be able to drink again. But he’s okay with that. In fact, he’s happy about that. Qutting drinking was not only the best thing he had ever done in his life, but it also benefitted his community.

After getting clean, Jodoin did a lot to improve himself. He overcame smoking and he started to get more active. But he still needed something to do. After refraining from booze Jodoin was filled with nervous energy and needed something to expend it on. He knew that his friend Ken Blohm was a boxing coach with national experience. In 1997 Blohm won the bronze medal at the national championships. He’s a man who is serious about his sport, and Jodoin wanted to learn more about the art of boxing from him.

Blohm had run a boxing club out of Leader before. But he was the only coach in the club and sometimes his work schedule got in the way. Eventually, the boxing program faltered and diminished. Blohm had been asked by Jodoin and other hockey players if he could teach them boxing on the side. Blohm denied their requests because he didn’t have time to teach a hockey player that lived a drunk lifestyle. In hindsight Jodoin understands why his first requests to learn boxing were denied. But at the time he wasn’t happy about it. In October 2014 his persistence paid off. Jodoin called Blohm again and explained that he quit drinking, quit smoking, and that he was serious about learning boxing. There was a heavy bag, speed bag, and some jump ropes in Jodoin’s garage and he invited Blohm over for a training session. Blohm gave him a chance, and he’s thankful that he did.

Blohm worked Jodoin hard. After the first workout Jodoin’s knees ached, his back was in agony, and his elbows were sore. But Jodoin kept coming back for more. The pair met in Jodoin’s garage three times a week for lessons, two hours at a time.

Not only was Jodoin becoming more physically fit, but he was noticing improvements in his personal life too. His relationship with his wife is “millions” of times better. Neither he or Jenny even realized how much better their relationship could be. On top of that, he has two daughters that he loves and lives for.

“I wouldn’t say I was a bad father before, but I’m a damn good father now,” Jodoin said. “That’s the most important thing to me; it’s those three girls.”

When Jodoin was drinking, weekends were his personal time. But his wife Jenny noticed a night and day difference after her husband quit drinking. He’s around on weekends and spends more time with his family. His kids are used to him being home and being involved in their lives consistently. He’s become the man that she and their kids can rely on.

“He was always a good dad and a good husband, but now he’s a great dad and a great husband,” Jenny said. “Until you go through the change you don’t really know that things can be better. Everything seemed good before, but now everything is great. We have a great relationship and he has a great relationship with the kids.”

Jodoin and Blohm continued to train out of his garage. After the pair discovered that Jodoin was eligible to box competitively (competitive boxing used to be limited to those aged 30 and under) he amped up his training schedule and has competed in two matches so far. In addition to training with Blohm three times a week, Jodoin started working out by himself for another three days a week doing cardio, running, skipping, and core work. He started eating healthier and would rest every Sunday. Eventually his 270 pound frame became more trim and he slimmed down to 215 pounds.

Jodoin made his boxing debut in Regina at the Battle of the Prairies in late April. The rookie felt like he had been a pro for years. The evening featured music and light shows that gave it the feel of a professional boxing match on the Las Vegas Strip. But that was the last thing on Jodoin’s mind. He was anxious to get started, and felt like all he could do during the evening was wait for his turn to enter the ring. After only training out of his garage, Jodoin longed to enter the squared circle through the ropes, and feel the padded floor beneath his boots.

“I wanted the fight to start three days before it started. I wanted to fight now. Not next week. It’s a nerve-wracking experience, but a good experience,” Jodoin said.

He won within the first minute of the bout by TKO. Just like that, he was hooked on delivering hooks. So two weeks later, Jodoin fought in Swift Current against local boxer Dustin Auseth. That fight went the distance – a gruelling three round bout that lasted six minutes total – and he came away with the victory by decision.

The boxer takes pride what he’s been able to achieve in the ring as an individual. His hard work and training has given him the ability to come out with two wins in his career. He takes sole ownership of his success.

“In a hockey game you’re out there and you’re part of a team. That’s one of the beautiful things about that sport. But in the ring, it’s just you and your opponent. If you have a bad night, no one is there to back you up,” Jodoin said.

What began as one man’s method of improving himself turned into something much greater for his community. Jodoin trained in his garage with Blohm on a regular basis and people started taking notice. More people jammed into Jodoin’s garage and started training. Eventually they didn’t have enough equipment or room to accommodate everyone who had taken up boxing. Blohm and Jodoin needed a larger space. With hard work, fundraising, and donations, they found a  home in the Leader Lions Hall. The Sandhills Boxing Club was born.

The pair made their mark, and now they’re running with it. While the hall looks bare at the moment with only some weight machines and boxing equipment, there are big plans for the gym. A wall of mirrors will be set up for shadow boxing, they’ll build supports to hang up bags, and they will build a ring in one corner of the hall. The plan is to host a boxing card on Nov. 7 featuring Jodoin and the other boxers from the club.

“A ring is essential. We have to have a ring. For eight months we trained Berkley how to fight, but using the ropes is part of that. When you feel the ropes on your back, you’ve got to move. You’ve got to get out of there,” Blohm said.

The return of boxing to Leader and area has been an unexpected surprise for Blohm. It’s reignited his passion for teaching the sport, and he now has the support he needs to once again host a boxing club. With a few extra coaches on hand and experienced boxers willing to help, the boxing club has been teaching kids as young as 11, all the way to those in their 30’s.

“I’m just damn proud to be part of this club. To be part of a group of hard working guys that want to work hard, that want to prosper, and want to grow,” Blohm said.

The Sandhills Boxing Club is a second chance for Blohm as it is for Jodoin. He never imagined that Jodoin’s phone call just eight months ago would equate to a second chance at teaching boxing. Jodoin’s passion to better himself was noticed in the community, and it helped spark the interest.

“He’s been the captain of the hockey team and he’s a huge role model in this town. Everybody has looked up to him for years,” Blohm said. “The work he’s been doing is phenomenal and he’s really caught everybody’s attention. He is the face of our boxing club and I am proud that he is here.”

And Jodoin won’t be going anywhere else any time soon. Jodoin hopes to get around 10 to 15 matches into the twighlight of his boxing career. After he’s done he plans to become a coach so he can give the gift of the sport to others.

It’s the least he can do after what the sport has given him.

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