Neither contracting COVID-19 nor the death of his son has slowed Aamjiwnaang’s Jason Simon and his mission to support indigenous youth.
The former NHL forward has toured Canada and some U.S. states for almost four years, sharing his personal story with thousands of kids and community members.
With the latest COVID-19 restrictions in place, Simon, 51, has shifted to sharing online sessions this month.
It’s been a challenging period for the former Phoenix Coyote, including the loss of son Jordan Thomas Swigart, who died of a fentanyl overdose in 2019. He was 24.
It’s a raw and painful memory but one he shares with his young audiences, along with the bullying, racism and alcoholism he has experienced.
“I get some that cry. But I’m there to say, ‘Hey, stay in school, work hard, set your goals, stay positive,’” he said.
“If I can do it, you can do it.”
As a kid growing up on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, Simon parlayed his chops as a hockey enforcer into a lengthy pro career, one that allowed him to suit up – and scrap with – some of the top game’s top players.
His tough guy reputation earned contracts with a remarkable 32 teams in 13 leagues, including brief stints with the NHL’s New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes.
He was inducted in 2017 into the Sarnia-Lambton Sports Hall of Fame.
Normally, Simon drives hundreds of kilometres between communities in northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta to deliver 10 to 15 presentations per tour.
“What really touched my heart is being able to meet with all the different youth from different First Nations.”
Back at Aamjiwnaang, he trains and mentors youth at a nine-week fitness and hockey program he created. There are plans to add an indoor rink surface to the facility, which is in a building he shares with Planet Stitch and owned by his brother Duffy Simon.
Simon contracted COVID-19 recently, which he believes he caught at a youth hockey event in December. He says he got through it with plenty of rest and the principles he teaches on the road.
“What I’ve learned over the years is spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically, stay well.”