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Hockey Player with ADHD Comes Out

Posted May 16 2011 9:55am

In January last year, Tony Saxon of the Guelph Murcury reported a great story on hockey player Adam Comrie coming out with his ADHD condition. I thought this was a great story and took a lot of courage for a young man in a high profile area to come out. Well done!

“Adam Comrie was saying the wrong things and doing the wrong things. The Guelph Storm defenceman was having trouble caring, focusing and getting motivated. But it wasn’t his fault. So, in December, there was a meeting at the Sleeman Centre to decide the immediate future of the talented Storm defenceman, who is also a draft pick of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers. At the meeting were Comrie, his Guelph billet family, members of the Storm coaching staff and Comrie’s mother, Kim, who had travelled from their home in Virginia.

Kim Comrie could tell when her son was slipping. “I came up because I knew I had to. As a parent I don’t care if he plays pro hockey, but I care that he doesn’t kill himself,” she said over the phone from Virginia, where she is an administrator at an elementary school. Adam Comrie has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a neurobiological disorder usually thought of as a childhood problem that affects a person’s ability to regulate attention, thought, concentration, emotions and behaviour. There are three forms of the disorder. Comrie has one that doesn’t include being hyperactive. Impulsive behaviour is a frequent symptom. Comrie, 19, agreed to go public with his ADHD because he wants others to know it doesn’t stop you from chasing your dreams. It is nothing to be ashamed of and asking for help and support is something those with it and their families need to do. The disorder affects millions of people and is treatable with medication. But earlier this season Comrie had stopped taking his medication regularly because of the side effects, which included lack of sleep, reduced appetite and an upset stomach. When he stopped taking his medication, things started to go downhill. Comrie knew something was wrong. So did everyone else close to him. Kim Comrie was all set to take him home with her before Storm general manager/coach Jason Brooks offered to take him in.

“It was either go home with my mom back to Virginia or move in with Jason. So I moved in with Jason,” Comrie said of the meeting. Comrie lives with a billet family in Guelph and the situation with his inappropriate behaviour — mostly saying the wrong things at the wrong time and minor issues with Matt Kennedy, his then-roommate who was traded in December — had reached a breaking point. “It had become a problem in our house,” he said of his billet home. “There had been a noticeable change in my personality. I wasn’t eating and sleeping regularly. I would say and do inappropriate things, then sit there later wondering why I had done them: things I would say or thoughts in my head.” He often found himself unmotivated at the rink. “Some days I just didn’t want to try or go to the rink. I wouldn’t have the drive some days,” he said.

So Comrie moved in with Brooks, his wife, Jess, and their two young daughters. Up early every day, breakfast, then the long drive in from Listowel. Over a two-week period they got Comrie back on schedule with his medication and back in focus. “Adam’s a good kid and this was tough to deal with,” Brooks said. “We wanted to help him as opposed to sending him home. We wanted to help him get on track.” Comrie took another step towards improving his situation one week after moving in with Brooks when he stood in the Storm dressing room and told his teammates. “That was the first time he had openly admitted he had it,” Storm teammate Taylor Beck said. “We all really respected that. It took a lot of courage to do that and we were happy that he could trust us.” Comrie said he felt he needed to be more open about his problem so people would understand him more. “I stood up in front of the team with Jason Brooks and told the guys why I might be loopy, why some of the things I might say or do might be ridiculous, what was going on in my head,” Comrie said. “It was great. There was no negativity. It was just let’s figure it out and move on.” Comrie played two seasons with the Saginaw Spirit before being traded to Guelph last off-season.

While he doesn’t mention it, his mom feels the ADHD might have had something to do with an ugly incident in Saginaw last year where Comrie shot a puck into the crowd after his team was scored on. The puck hit a fan, cutting her for 30 stitches and resulting in a five-game suspension for Comrie. “Adam is a great kid. But when he’s not on his medication he just does these ridiculous, outrageous things that he has no control over,” his mom said. As a child, Comrie’s ADHD manifested itself in poor school performance. “As a parent you just think it’s a matter of your child developing at a different level. That eventually everything’s going to click,” his mom said. “I remember helping him with his homework for four hours every night to help him get through this.” But Adam told her he couldn’t sit down and read. He couldn’t stay on the page. He couldn’t think.
He was diagnosed in Grade 7, but had trouble handling the medication. When he was 14, Comrie hit a new low. He became very depressed and wouldn’t — couldn’t — go to school. His mom took him to hospital and a new, more productive, medication was prescribed. “It’s been tough, let me tell you,” said Kim Comrie, a single mom.
Heidi Bernhardt is the executive director of the ADHD advocacy and education organization Centre For ADD/ADHD Advocacy, Canada. She has three sons with ADHD. Bernhardt said it is important for more people like Comrie to reach out for help. “If we could get more young adults and children to be able to do this we could make some headway in destigmatizing ADHD and getting the right message out there,” Bernhardt said.

“We have to get rid of the myths and misinformation that is out there. A lot of parents won’t go for diagnosis and help because they don’t want the label or the stigma.” Bernhardt said somewhere between five per cent and 12 per cent of children suffer from ADHD. In adults it’s a little lower, around 4.5 per cent. In children it strikes boys three times more than girls. In adulthood it’s about 50/50. Two thirds of children with ADHD will continue to have symptoms into adulthood, Bernhardt said.

Comrie is back on his medication. He has been playing much better on the ice and behaving much better since moving back in with the same billet family after he returned from spending time with his mom over the Christmas break.  “I can’t express my gratitude for the hockey team, the coaches, the billet, everything they’ve done for him,” Kim Comrie said. “God bless them.” Comrie is focused on helping the Storm and earning a professional contract. He has yet to sign with the Florida Panthers, who do know about his ADHD.

He said this year’s ordeal in dealing with his ADHD has been an eye opener. “ADHD doesn’t only affect you, but the people around you too,” he said. “People think too much about what other people think. You need to ask for help. There’s no shame in that. When you do, it’s a big weight off your shoulders.”

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