"I AM NOBODY": A Triumph of the Human Spirit

Robert Thomas

“I am me and this is my story,” is how newly minted author Greg Gilhooly describes his book, I am Nobody: Confronting the Sexually Abusive Coach Who Stole My Life.

 Greg Gilhooly

Greg Gilhooly

In his book, Gilhooly portrays his life and how one outburst at a hockey tournament, when he was 14 years old, turned him into prey for former Moose Jaw Warrior’s head coach, Graham Michael James. 

James or simply Graham, as he liked to be called during his stint in Moose Jaw, would go from hockey god to social pariah when revelations came out, decades after the fact, that he had sexually assaulted his underage players, including Warriors superstar Theo Fleury.

But in the sickening saga of Graham James, Gilhooly truly fits the title of his work, I am Nobody, a faceless and nameless target of Graham, one of far too many. Sadly for Gilhooly though, his life, like Theo Fleury’s, was another life nearly destroyed in the aftermath. 

In a 45 minute telephone interview with MJ Independent, Gilhooly discussed the sinister past, his own struggles, his book and his plans and hope for the future.

“It's been something rattling around in my head for many years,” he said, about his decision to write I am Nobody.

Described as a self therapeutic exercise by Gilhooly, in his own recovery from childhood sexual abuse, I Am Nobody is truly a frank and realistic re-telling of his life in a manner which reaches out to many who may have had similar struggles.

greg gilhooly.jpg

“To write this forced me not to run away from my past,” Gilhooly said about his work. 

But he wrote I Am Nobody more than just for his own therapy and recovery but to help other victims of child sexual assault.

“For other victims out there, I want them to see that you don't have to be a celebrity to get through this,” Gilhooly said, adding “the average survivor (of child sexual assault) may be wondering whether they don't have the same access, as celebrities have, to get help. You can get through this, you don't have to be a celebrity to survive.”

Gilhooly’s nightmare with James began as a Winnipeg teenager, when he was a Bantam league goaltender and James was coaching Midget AAA. James was a local hockey celebrity and seemingly the key for, the highly academically gifted, Gihooly to fulfill his dreams and escape his own troubled childhood.

As a young, impressionable, teenager dreaming of combining academics with hockey, being mentored by James seemed a dream come true, a "way out" for Gilhooly. But tragically, Gilhooly was merely being groomed and manipulated by James for his sick perversions and the aftermath was a continuum of everlasting nightmares.

“He was a master manipulator and whenever threatened he would play the victim and act hard done by,” Gilhooly said of James.

Asked how he was able to find the frankness in his book, the Princeton educated Gilhooly said that being a nobody helped him.

“I think it's different because I'm a different person. I'm not a professional hockey player. I'm a highly educated person…because I'm a nobody and wasn't an NHL star or  didn't have a reputation to save, I can be a bit more honest,” Gilhooly said about his book.

But Gilhooly also admitted he had “no greater insight than them. I would never say my book is better than theirs,” when asked why, in this writer’s opinion, Gilhooly’s book was by far the best portrayal of Graham James and the aftermath of hell he left behind him.

I found myself asking the question, as I admitted to Gilhooly, as a young cub reporter I knew, and, like so many others, admired Graham James.

Gilhooly described James as a “bumbling schlub", who in reality, was not successful. James held no degree, until later studying while in prison, but somehow manipulated the system well enough to get a job as a substitute teacher in Winnipeg. In Moose Jaw, James would be a substitute English teacher at Central Collegiate.

Asked if he thought whether there were people, in the four cities Graham James coached, who knew about the reality of what the master manipulator was doing, Gilhooly said, "people knew".

“At each and every stop along the way, people knew of Graham,” Gilhooly stated. But for Gilhooly, he cannot condemn those who, like himself, did and said nothing.

“I can't be critical. I could have stopped this from the get go,” Gilhooly said.

The year after Gilhooly was seemingly free from James' grasp (he went to Princeton on a hockey scholarship), the prolific child sexual abuser James would recruit his most well known prey Theo Fleury and Sheldon Kennedy.

It's a theme in I Am Nobody. Gilhooly’s own internal struggles prevented him from coming forward, admitting the truth to the authorities and preventing others from facing the nightmares he endured, nightmares that lasted long after the abuse.

Like other prey of James, the book realistically describes Gilhooly’s personal struggles, which set him out on a series of continually self destructive actions, almost ending with him taking his own life. The realism explains vividly not only Gilhooly’s sufferings but the suffering of so many other victims of childhood sexual assault, as well.

“Child sexual assault is the murder of a child’s soul,” Gilhooly said, from his home in Ontario, chillingly adding that the emotional trauma was “far worse than the actual sexual abuse itself.” 

Although he was never a professional hockey player, Gilhooly managed to graduate from the prestigious Princeton University and later earn a law degree from the University of Toronto. He would go on to work for some very prestigious law firms, but like James’ other prey, the ones who made it to the NHL, Gilhooly would seemingly self destruct, ruining opportunities in one top law firm after another.

‘I Am Nobody’ tells of these struggles and the inner turmoil he faced to somehow survive. 

Gilhooly's inner struggles, self punishment and self destruction would later almost claim his life. But somehow Gilhooly found the strength to seek help and begin the journey from victim to survivor. It's a journey of recovery that he said he will be on for the remainder of his life.

The book describes Gilhooly’s suicidal struggles, which prevented him from coming forward when Sheldon Kennedy went public. But how with Theo Fleury coming forward, and his book, Playing With Fire, Gilhooly was strong enough in his recovery to tell the Winnipeg Police the sickening truth about Graham James.

But James, the great manipulator, would cut a deal depriving Gilhooly the opportunity to relate his nightmare in court. This after Gilhooly would stumble upon how James had quietly acquired a pardon, setting off a national outcry and changes to the Pardons Act. 

Gilhooly is today highly critical of the justice system which he sees as too lenient on monsters like James but one that punishes others too harshly and does not rehabilitate people who should be a part of society.

“Graham should never be walking amongst us ever again,” Gilhooly said, adding “I have looked into the eye of pure evil.” 

But Gilhooly has compassion for many people incarcerated and is calling for increased rehabilitation. “There is a big difference between people who are evil and people who make a mistake…they (the non-evil people) deserve support for rehabilitation,” he stated.

He has gone so far as to speak to the House of Commons and Senate committees, using his own experiences and legal acumen with the goal of affecting change.

His book is a triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity, the details of which would break many people are found throughout the it's 288 pages.

In the end, Gilhooly’s I Am Nobody revolves in a full circle and ends with a message of hope. A future which sees the 6'7" Gilhooly deciding on whether to continue being an advocate or to return to his other work, in the legal profession.

‘I Am Nobody’ is one incredible read and sure not to disappoint. I predict shortly after this book hits the store shelves, Greg Gilhooly will not be a nobody for very long.

For those around Moose Jaw, the book may be ordered through locally owned Post Horizon Booksellers. Otherwise you can find it on Amazon.ca. It was published by Greystone Books.