CHUVALO'S "STILL STANDING" MESSAGE HITS HOME
George Chuvalo is a Canadian sporting legend, a top heavyweight boxer among the toughest ever, even though he never made it to the top of the world.
But when his boxing career ended he needed to be tougher than ever as a result of a series of tragedies that would normally destroy a weaker man. No longer dreaming of the top but fighting to stay off the bottom.
Now, despite all the blows, George Chuvalo is "Still Standing".
The Swift Current Comprehensive High School was fortunate enough to receive a presentation on the dangers of drug abuse from none other than George Chuvalo himself.
Chuvalo was beaten up but never beaten down. He was always a contender but never the champ. He was still standing after two famous fights with Muhammad Ali. George left the ring in remarkable, physical and mental health but he would pay a terrible price, one no one saw coming until it was too late.
Three of the Chuvalo boys became regulars in Toronto's west end hard core drug scene. They turned to crime to support their drug habits.
Chuvalo spoke to the students about his sons and how their death's have now affected his life.
Jessie, the youngest, was fragile and had been in therapy. He spent some time in reform school and seemed angry all the time. Heroin provided temporary relief but no solution. At the age of 20 Jessie walked into his room at the Chuvalo house and shot himself.
"I remember laying on the couch downstairs and I woke up and it's like everything you breath in is grief and whenever you exhale it's whatever it is. You can't even breath. Every time you try you're just blowing up. You just can't believe that your son is dead. You walk around numb wanting to hold them again, or talk to them," said Chuvalo.
After Jessie's death Georgie and Stephen other son's to Chuvalo were then full blow Heroin addicts. They overdosed time and time again. Their father played the role of guardian angel, desperate to make things right.
"One time Stephen overdosed 15 times in a period of two months." said Chuvalo. "I was just making a joke saying you're lucky I don't have a job. But it didn't seem to matter," he added.
Things then went from bad to worse. The boys ended up in a penitentiary after numerous convictions for theft and armed robbery. Stephen was stabbed, Georgie slit his wrists and came very close to dying.
In 1993, just days after Georgie got out of jail, he went right back to his Heroin habits. They found him dead in a hotel with a needle in his arm. Georgie died October 31, 1993.
First one son and then another. It seemed like there was some sort of terrible curse on the Chuvalo family.
Then, when it seemed the pain could get no worse, days after Georgie's funeral Lynn Chuvalo ( George's wife ) wrote a suicide note, took an overdose of pills and laid down on her dead son's bed.
Chuvalo remember's staying in bed for months on end not carrying about the world.
"There are somethings you can deal with, like fighting. You fight and then move on to the next fight. But the aftermath of this stays with you forever. You don't ever heal. People can say a few jokes and see you laughing they think you're doing alright but that's because they never went through it. They don't understand," he said.
Chuvalo has never doubted he was a bad parent and says he can't blame himself for mistakes his sons and wife made.
"I don't blame myself. I think that I was a good parent. I was a loving parent, a tender parent the best I could be."
Chuvalo admits he is smarter now than he was when he was 21 but says you can only do your best with what you have.
He explained to the students that even after the death of his two sons and wife, life wasn't going to stop for him. He was able to remarry in 1993 at the age of 58. The remaining children in the Chuvalo family were Mitchell, who just finished graduating, Vanessa, and Stephen who unfortunately was in a penetentary for armed robbery.
Chuvalo visited Stephen on a regular basis. They had talks about doing a presentation exactly like this one and Stephen was more than willing too.
Things were finally moving in the right direction for the Chuvalo family. Stephen was to be released from jail in five months. He and his father were going to make their first presentation in Ontario. Five months passed. Stephen had been out of jail for 11 days until one tragic night.
Stephen was found laying in a chair with a needle in his leg and an unlit cigarette in his hand. Chuvalo later explained that when Stephen injected the heroin he didn't even have enough time to light his cigarette before he was dead. It takes just seven seconds for the drug to do harm to your body. Stephen died on August 17, 1996.
The shadows are still with George and he struggles against them everyday.
He is hoping to make some sense out of what has happened, by telling teenagers the story of his children and how drugs nearly destroyed a whole family.
Chuvalo calls his story "Still Standing" because that's exactly what he has been doing against the odds his entire life.
Thu, 09 Nov 2006
Source: Southwest Booster, The (CN SN)
Copyright: Southwest Booster 2006