Headlines Of Hope: Inspirational Olympic Athlete Edition

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Addiction doesn’t discriminate. In the spirit of the Winter Games, here are the inspirational stories of elite winter athletes in recovery.

Our previous Headlines of Hope shared the stories of 5 people who have been open about their recovery from opioid addiction. The intention was to offer useful, optimistic narratives as alternatives to the gruesome stories of death and prosecution that dominate media coverage around the opioid crisis.

In the spirit of the Winter Olympics, and because addiction doesn’t discriminate, here are a few more stories of different paths to recovery to inspire you, all from elite winter sports athletes!

1. Nicole Bobek

Pro figure skater; 1995 U.S. national champion, 1995 World bronze medalist; 1998 Winter Olympics competitor

Nicole Bobek has dazzled figure skating audiences and judges with her rhythm and signature move, a spiral with a free leg extended very high. Trained since early childhood in figure skating, Nicole was wracking up titles and money by her adolescence. Unfortunately this threw her into a world of partying that she was not prepared for. By 2009, her mother had started and abandoned a petition for her to go to rehab, and she had multiple run ins with the law, including one involving a methamphetamine ring.

She began her recovery from drug addiction in 2010, and talked about her story publicly with the intention of preventing youth from falling into the same slippery slope [Chicago Tribune]. At the time, she had just began working as a clerk in a local ice-skating rink in Florida, while attending court-ordered counseling, appointments, and drug tests.

At the time, the Chicago Tribune reported:

“She says she has stopped smoking, and her boyfriend confirms it. Her hair is blond again, the pitting on her face mostly covered with makeup, her eyes bright. The issue remains whether a woman who looks like the old Nicole will act like the old Nicole. A serious mistake, a missed probation appointment, even a positive on the court-ordered random drug tests, could put her in prison for five years.”

So did Nicole’s recovery hold up until 2018? Yep! She’s still in recovery, happily working and married, and in her own words, “Super happy, ridiculously happy.”

On Nicole’s Path to Recovery: A “get-well” job, court-ordered probation requirements

2. Kevin Stevens

Pro hockey player; NHL all-star

Steven pinpoints his downslide into heroin and opiate addiction to a first bad decision in 1993: trying cocaine after an NHL game in New York City, after a devastating on-ice injury. He says drugs quickly became “more powerful than me,” leading to separation from his wife and kids, and in 2016, five days of jail after being busted for selling Oxycodone.

Today he talks about his experience, and especially that first decision, at schools, with the hope of guiding youth into making safer choices. The speaking gigs are part of his probation requirements, but he suggested them.

Former NHL Players’ Association executive director Paul Kelly, who is representing him regarding his criminal legal charges, reported in May, “He’s in a better place than he’s been in decades…He’d like to be part of the solution to the opioid crisis rather than a contributor to the problem. So yesterday was a big step in that direction.” [The Hockey News]

On Kevin’s Path to Recovery: Chronic pain management, speaking publicly about addiction, court-ordered probation requirements

3. Oksana Baiul

Pro figure skater; 1993 World champion and the 1994 Olympic champion in ladies’ singles

Who can forget when Oksana stole the show from the Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding drama in the 1994 Winter Olympics?

Oksana attributed her drinking problems to achieving too much too fast. She found herself wildly successful in America without guidance, at a very young age.

After crashing her Mercedes into a tree and being charged with a DUI, her drinking hit a low point and she sought inpatient treatment in Connecticut [New York Times].

‘Life for me is more important than alcohol,” Baiul said.

On Oksana’s Path to Recovery: Inpatient treatment, court-ordered probation requirements

4. Aaron Estrada

Pro extreme skier; three time champion of U.S. Extreme Freeskiing Championships in Crested Butte

Chris Davenport, a friend and former ski partner of Aaron, described him as “one of the smoothest, most catlike skiers I’ve ever seen. And I don’t say that lightly. He had incredible natural talent from a very young age.”

Estrada grew up in the ski world, where partying was the norm. He also had addiction in his genes, as his father struggled with heroin addiction.

Aaron chalked partying up to part of the extreme sport lifestyle, until he lost control during a run and hit a tree. This accident caused him to use painkillers and other drugs heavily. He stopped skiing, and eventually turned to heroin.

A turning point came for him when he was offered an opportunity to avoid jail time, and stay in treatment for a year instead. Today, Estrada has his own counseling certificate and uses his experience to help others [Mountain Online].

Aaron says of the power of connecting with other addicts and alcoholics: “Most addicts, alcoholics, they don’t trust anyone—especially some dude who’s sitting across from them in a suit. But once they see that I understand what they’re going through, then I can break through.”

On Aaron’s path to Recovery: Inpatient treatment, group therapy, exercise


Cassandra McIntosh is a Workit Health contributor. She brings a unique mix of expertise drawn from her background in counseling psychology, socio-organizational psychology and consumer insights.

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