Richmondite, CFL tough guy Shea Emry has men’s health on his mind
Grey Cup-winning Emry retires to focus on family and his men’s wellness venture, which includes logging and yoga
“From a man’s perspective, it’s weak; it’s weak to show your emotions, you’re somehow a failure.”
Richmond native and two-time Grey Cup champion footballer Shea Emry explained why he thinks it’s so difficult for men to admit they’re wrestling with mental health issues, let alone do something about it.
If anyone has the right to opine on the subject, however, it’s CFL middle linebacker Emry, who last week announced his retirement from the game after a career packed full of potentially life-altering concussions while starring for the Montreal Allouettes and, laterally, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Throughout his career, Emry, 29, who grew up near No. 2 and Woodwards roads, didn’t just battle demons on the field, where he was once voted by his peers as the “CFL’s Nastiest Player,” due, in the most part, to his relentless style of defence.
He also sheltered secret enemies in his mind; many of which reared their ugly heads during Emry’s darker days spent off the field while sidelined due to numerous concussions.
Shea Emry, who won the Grey Cup twice with the Montreal Allouettes, fools around with his 16-month-old son, Rozen. After countless concussions and a previously private battle with depression, the Richmond native has retired from football to concentrate on family and further his men’s wellness business called Wellmen.Photo submitted
It was during one such season-ending episode in 2011 that Emry, who has admitted in the past to contemplating suicide, found himself being drawn deeper into self-induced isolation and further than he’d ever been before into the depressive state he had known as an adolescent when he experienced extreme bullying.
But rather than roll over, early in 2012, Emry began doing what so many men in a similar situation find the toughest thing to do — tell other people what was on his mind.
He began sharing his story publicly and also started throwing himself into personal betterment and designed his own rehabilitation program, which included, of all things for a hardened pro-footballer, yoga, nature immersion, mindfulness and talk therapy.
“When football was taken away from me again in 2011 (concussion), I didn’t really know who I was,” said Emry, who hung up his shoulder pads for good after sustaining his (at least) tenth career concussion last season.
“But I thought, by telling my story, I would find that there was a lot of other men in the same situation as me.
“So I threw myself into all these activities; it allowed a balance to be struck between the voices in my head and feeling good about myself.”
Although Emry’s new persona and outlook on life propelled him back to the top of his game, he knew the whole picture wasn’t complete.
And in 2014, the majority of his off-the-field energy was placed into a new business venture, a men’s adventure club called “Wellmen,” where he would share his mental wellness regime with other men who, like Emry of old, found themselves at a loss of how to deal with the struggles of expressing their emotions, without feeling like they are surrendering their masculinity.
“It’s most likely pride or ego that stops men (from coming forward); they don’t want to admit there’s any problem,” said Emry.
“It does make it harder. But it’s changing and it’s becoming more palatable for men to reach out and have that conversation.
“Wellmen provides opportunities for guys to step out of their comfort zones and experience something vastly different. It shows them there are many others out there just like them.
“I would urge them to take the risk, you will gain strength from taking a risk on something you don’t really know.
“This (project) is about modern day skills for men, helping them to navigate through life and learning how to adapt. It’s about having conversations and taking part in activities.”
As well as the aforementioned yoga and mindfulness, those activities include axe-throwing, fire-building and logger sports.
“It’s very much for males aged 18 to 55; it’s about the male experience and it’s not tailored solely for athletes,” said Emry, who took part in his first logger competition last week.
“It’s about trying to engage your masculine being, while at the same time providing an experience that, as a human being, you can still express yourself and your emotions.”
Shea Emry, left, shows a client how to chop like a logger during one of his Wellmen adventure experiences, which also includes yoga and talk therapy.
Now living in Dunbar, Emry — nominated late in his career as the CFL’s “Most Outstanding Canadian,” “Most Outstanding Defensive Player” and awarded the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Trophy for advocacy and leadership — said he still has lots of friends in Richmond and visits Steveston “at least once a month.”
Now that he’s given up football, however, Vancouver College-grad Emry is devoting his full attention to the Wellmen venture, aside, of course, from spending more time with his 16-month-old son, Rozen Oak Emry, and his fellow Richmondite partner, Devon Brooks, who’s expecting their second child soon.
“I want to awaken a new generation of men that are a brotherhood of adventurous and empowered individuals, confident about who they are,” said Emry of what he wants to achieve in his new lease on life.
“But it can also be about just going outside and getting on the bike and getting lost in that adventure experience.
“It can be about speaking at close quarters and listening to each others’ stories.”