Ottawa Rough Riders

Glen Kulka - Defensive End - 1990-94 - Bakersfield Junior College


Former CFL star reveals battle with drugs, suicide to students - Desmond Devoy - Almonte Carleton Local News - 12-01-2012

Glenn Kulka could've been a contender.

In many ways, he was, and is, a contender. A former Canadian Football League player who went to the Grey Cup, a WWF wrestler who took on some of the biggest names around, junior A hockey player, radio reporter and now gym owner.

But to whom much is given, much is expected.

And his battle with the bottle, and drugs, cost him a lot, including the nagging suspicion of what might have been.

"I could've accomplished a lot more," said Kulka during a speech to the students of Almonte and District High School last month. "I was limited because I chose alcohol and drugs as a crutch ... I've had a very good life. But I've made some very poor choices."

Kulka's first bitter taste of disappointment, the direct result of his reputation as an alcoholic and drug abuser, came when during the National Hockey League (NHL) draft when he was a teenager.

Glen Kulka   Bakersfield JC
Yr Team Tkl Sack Fumb TD
1986 Mtl - 0 0 0
1987 Tor 23 10 2 0
1988 Tor 23 11 2 0
1989 Tor 32 8 0 0
1990 Ott 31 7 0 0
1991 Ott 20 3 1 0
1992 Ott 19 2 0 0
1993 Ott 12 2 1 0
1994 Ott 23 3 0 0
1995 Ssk 20 2 2 0
1996 Ssk 12 0 0 0
Total 11 215 48 8 0

"When I was 16, I really wanted to play hockey," he said. "I was rewarded for my ability to carry out violent acts."

As a big kid, he was drafted as the team's enforcer. He surmised that he could have become a better hockey player, instead of a bruiser, had he been allowed to work on his finesse.

Kulka began his hockey career with the British Columbia Hockey League, signing up first with the Cowichan Valley Capitals in 1980, and then playing for teams on both sides of the border, including the Medicine Hat Tigers, Spokane Flyers and Nanaimo Islanders from 1981 to 1983.

Such an impressive record should have made him a good choice for the NHL draft. The Edmonton Journal had printed a list of local players that it predicted would be drafted, and Kulka was listed as a likely sixth round draft pick. A few days before the draft, an agent had called, feeling Kulka out about the possibility of representing him in the big leagues.

"This is what I had dreamt about," said Kulka, still remembering the anticipation. "It was actually coming true."

Like many players on draft day, he parked himself by the phone and waited. And waited.

"I never got picked at all," said Kulka. "That sticks out in my mind as the saddest day of my life. It crushed me. I cried like a little girl."

His reputation, sadly, had preceded him.

"I let so many people down because I was either drunk or high," said Kulka. "I brought my team down, all of the people around me. I realized I was very, very bitter about not being able to play."

What made the rejection sting that little bit more was that one of his best buddies, who lived only a few doors down from him, was picked that very day, and went on to play with the New Jersey Devils for 21 years.

Kulka's exposure to addiction had begun early, at home.

"(There was a) rampant history of drug use in my family," Kulka told the students. "(It was) a learned behaviour. I always said I was never going to be like my dad ... an alcoholic and an abusive dad."

He later took this learned behaviour out into the world with him, and it affected his ability to socialize and relate.

"I stunted my social development because I drank at such an early age," said Kulka. "When you mask your feelings, good or bad, you stunt your ability to deal with your problems."

But Kulka was able to make it to the big leagues - just not the one he had envisioned. In 1986, he signed a contract with the Edmonton Eskimos, later playing with CFL teams in Saskatchewan, Montreal and Toronto, ending his CFL days with the now-defunct Ottawa Roughriders.

Even more remarkable was that he had only started playing football at the age of 19. The Eskimos sent him to train in southern California, where he attended Bakersfield College. On his first day of training, his best friend, noticing the Kulka was training in a pair of sneakers, bought him his first pair of cleats.

There were many highs and lows throughout his CFL career, but even at the top of his game, he continued to consume drugs and alcohol, sometimes making a bad situation worse.

Kulka went all the way to the Grey Cup one year. The lead had changed hands several times. The game's outcome hinged on a 48-yard field goal in the final seconds of the game. It fell short and Kulka's team lost.

Kulka retreated to the dressing room, showered, changed, and downed an entire bottle of peach schnapps in one go.

"You miss out on all of the great moments in your life," Kulka advised the students. "You suppress the lows. But you don't remember the highs."

It was indicative of the way his life was heading, and his hard-drinking and drugging ways would soon catch up with him financially.

"I'm almost ashamed to say this," said Kulka, delving in to the somewhat taboo subject of personal finances, but he recalled that during his time with the Ottawa Rough Riders, he was set to earn $230,000 over the three years of his contract.

"I went to my accountant at the end of the year and he said, 'Glenn, there is $13,000 that we can't account for,'" remembered Kulka. "No one is giving performance enhancing drugs away."

For the second time in his life, though, Kulka joined another famous sport league outside of his comfort zone, the old World Wrestling Federation.

He trained with the famous Calgary-based wrestler Bret 'The Hitman' Hart, and wrestled not only against his coach but other marquee names such as the 'Million Dollar Man', Ted DiBiase and 'Psycho' Sid Vicious.

"I was at the cusp of being that wrestling superstar," said Kulka.

The atmosphere he found at the WWF as well was not a good one for someone addicted to drugs.

"There are a lot of wrestlers who are using performance-enhancing drugs," said Kulka. "It is a crazy, crazy, crazy industry."

He was pulling in about $4,000 a week, when a car crash on Highway 417 put an end to his career. In hindsight, Kulka concedes that it might have been one of the best things to ever happen to him.

"I would've been dead if I had continued to wrestle," Kulka told the students.

After he was cut from the WWF, he returned home and suddenly found himself unemployed. Once again, he made matters worse by when he "stepped it up to cocaine."

His drug dealers were less than sympathetic to his plight.

"Drug dealers ... they would just as soon slit your throats as get money off of you," he said of that dark time.

He also dismissed the notion that people can ever trust their dealers, or even be friends with them, since dealers are just out to make money and don't care about their customers.

"The dealer who sells you marijuana will sell you coke," he said.

His best friend in the world at the time was his black Labrador, Rocky. "He didn't walk away from me when I was spitting and slobbering."

Kulka woke up one day and decided that that day would be his last day on earth. "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired," said Kulka. "I'm thinking of taking my own life."

With some cocaine in one coat pocket, and a bottle of whiskey in the other, he took Rocky and a shotgun with him to a park near Petrie Island in Ottawa's east end.

"I stuck the shotgun in my mouth and I was trying to reach the trigger," he told the students. "I couldn't reach it, so I got a stick (to reach the trigger) to blow my head off."

As he made preparations to end his own life, he had some other sinister, unfinished business to attend to before he died.

"I was going to take my dog's life too," he said, shaking his head at his inexplicable decision. "I figured if I'm going to go, he's going too."

But looking into Rocky's trusting eyes, he was not able to bring himself to carry out the deed. "I was too afraid to kill my dog," Kulka said, his voice now quiet, the auditorium before him hushed as is seldom heard during an assembly. "That's what ended up saving me. I had bruises on the roof of my mouth from the barrel of my gun ... I pray that you guys will be smarter than I was."

Now that he has been clean and sober for nearly a decade, Kulka is taking to task people who wish to minimize the impact of so-called "soft drugs" like marijuana.

"One phrase that drives me crazy is that it (marijuana) is a soft drug," said Kulka. "I wasted about 15 or 20 years of my life smoking dope. They call it dope for a reason. It kills brain cells. It impairs your ability to make decisions."

Frustratingly, and ironically considering his battle with addictions, a head shop opened up right beside Kulka's gym on Stittsville's Main Street. On the other side of Kulka's gym is a liquor store.

"I've got Puff-A-Lot and Drink-A-Lot on either side of me," he joked.

However, as with any substance, Kulka conceded that one puff would not be the end of the world.

"I'm not going to tell you that you will ruin your life (with one joint)," he said. "It's an escape you're looking for. It gives you relief for as long as the joint lasts ... The abuse of anything is what causes the problems. If you are not able to go to a party and not be sober, you may have to look in the mirror."

He also noted that there appears to be a double standard between an illegal drug like marijuana and a socially accepted drug like alcohol.

"Alcohol seems to be accepted," said Kulka. "But from my perspective, it is numbing."

Kulka stressed that, as with anything, there is always hope, and that things happen for a reason.

"As long as you can dig your fingernails in, you can get out. If I can get out, you can get out," said Kulka. "Everything I had to go through, both good and bad, was for a reason, to put me here today."

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