North Delta teen put 'mental health before hockey,' now plans return to game
Surrey Now Leader - 7/6/2019
A North Delta-raised junior hockey player has gone public with mental-health struggles that took him off his game over the past two seasons.
Ilijah Colina, a five-foot-six forward with the WHL'sPrince George Cougars, left the team in early February to return home, for personal reasons.
Until that point in the season, he'd scored six goals and added six assists in 39 games.
Something wasn't right with Colina, who has now explained why in a 1,100-word essay headlined, "Mental Illness is Okay," posted June 26 on the bachockey.ca website.
"Even after the 2 years of mental health struggles, I'm still striving for my dream no matter how far out of reach it may seem," Colina, 19, wrote as an intro.
The post details Colina's recent hockey history, which involved a trade from Portland Winterhawks to Prince George and injuries – first a concussion and then a separated shoulder.
"When I returned from this injury it was hard just to enjoy hockey," wrote Colina. "Every time I went on the ice it was a fight with myself just to compete. My depression felt paralyzing, like I couldn't help myself. I wasn't giving my full effort on the ice, which wasn't fair to my team."
That's when he decided to put his mental health before hockey.
"I made a decision to leave my team and not finish my 3rd season. I didn't want my mind to take me to the wrong path. It was something I had to do. I knew I was throwing away my chance to be drafted (by a NHL team) but some things are bigger than hockey."
From 2013 to 2015, Colina played Bantam hockey at Burnaby Winter Club before earning a roster spot on the Valley West Hawks of the B.C. Major Midget League. Starting in 2016, he played 83 games for Portland before being dealt to Prince George.
CLICK HERE to see Colina's stats and bio on eliteprospects.com.
Colina says he first experienced mental illness in November of 2017, while with the Winterhawks.
"My coach at the time, Mike Johnston, pulled me aside before hockey practice and asked me, 'Is everything okay?' During this meeting I was confused as to why he was asking me this. Out of nowhere I just replied, 'I don't know what's wrong.'"
Little more than a year later, Colina read a post on social media written by his friend, Abby Zawada, a first-year guard with the University of the Fraser Valley women's basketball program.
"At 3:30am on the bus floor I found myself in tears because of how much I related to her story," Colina wrote. "As soon as I finished reading her article I knew I needed to get help. I was struggling and fighting like this for 2 years and never said a word to anyone. All along I was motivated by the wrong thing. I was trying to prove a point to myself, that I was stronger than my mind and could fight back."
Now, Colina says he's sharing his story "to prevent others from making my mistake, which was holding it in for so long.
"I acknowledge those who are staying quiet because I know how hard it is. If you are reading this and struggling with mental health please speak up as soon as possible.
"I hope my story shows people that Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It's a real thing we have in our world today. It's okay to show emotion and be real."
Based in Calgary and operated by Blair Courchene, BAC Hockey coaches hockey skills with the pillars of Battle, Adversity and Creativity. The website is a platform for BAC Hockey 4 Hope, "designed to be an safe, resourceful, perhaps therapeutic platform for our community to share their mental health stories, and read about others and learn that you are never alone."
As for Colina's hockey career, he's planning to attend the Cougars' training camp next month.
"He'll finish out his WHL career (and) he's also hoping to use his scholarship at an American school," his mother, Carrie Colina, told the Now-Leader. "His brother (Issiah) is also going to PG camp, which is so great for both of them. They've been so close these past few months."
CLICK HERE to read Colina's entire post at bachockey.ca.
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