“This year off hasn’t been a year off – it has been the biggest year of growth I’ve ever had,” UFC welterweight Court McGee, who hasn’t set foot in the Octagon since losing to Ryan LaFlare in December 2013 and won’t do so again until the second half of 2015, says.
Not many fighters that have endured more than a year on the sidelines and multiple surgeries to address a single issue wouldn’t be so upbeat and positive, but then again, the fighter known as “The Crusher” hasn’t exactly lived a typical life.
McGee is a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a professional mixed martial artist. He is also one of the millions of people in long-term recovery from addiction.
When he submitted Kris McCray to win Season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, a teary-eyed McGee dedicated his victory to everyone fighting their own battle with addiction. For the last 3217 days, the 30-year-old father of two has been sober and carrying a message of hope and recovery to anyone willing to reach out and ask for assistance.
Wrist surgery to repair a torn scapholunate ligament may have turned 2014 into a lost year in terms of his fighting career, but it also presented McGee with the opportunity to begin work on his autobiography and continue sharing his story of recovery through speaking engagements.
“The surgeon told me, ‘From surgery to release date to when you can go back and compete is going to be a year,’” McGee, who went under the knife on April 29, 2014, explains. “My thought was, ‘Oh s**t, I haven’t fought for a couple months; what am I going to do?’ But I’ve built up this network and family around me through recovery to where I can do speaking engagements and I had a couple people reach out.
“It started with a narcotics convention at the capitol building to this little youth group to a sheriff’s department that says, ‘We’d like you to come speak to two middle schools and two junior highs.’ One thing led to another, speaking started picking up and this Hope 361 project started.”
Hope 361 is an online community of real people recovering from addiction sharing their stories openly and honestly to connect and provide direction to all those that need help and McGee is one of the founders.
“You can get on there, build a profile and share your experiences, whether you’re someone living a life of recovery or you’re a loved one of someone in recovery,” McGee, who was declared clinically dead after a heroin overdose on September 9, 2005, says. “It has blossomed to the point that we’re now working with detox facilities, in-patient treatment facilities, out-patient treatment facilities, sober living facilities. We have a nutritionist, licensed clinical social workers – anything that encompasses getting sober, we have resources to help you.
“Now we’re working on a speaking tour and helping people get into treatment that can’t afford it. We’ll be sponsoring people into detox facilities or in-patient treatment facilities or long-term sober living facilities. We’ve built a business around helping people. It’s turned into this whole incredible thing. It’s really cool.”
One of the biggest areas of focus for McGee is breaking down the stigma associated with addiction and he’s using his own story to help do that.
McGee didn’t grow up in a broken home or surrounded by addiction; his mother is a nurse and his father retired after a lengthy career working at Hill Air Force Base. They instilled a strong work ethic in their children and raised them in a loving, supportive, caring home.
“My story shows that anyone can be an addict. I was a normal, everyday guy, but once I started to drink, I couldn’t limit the amount. Once I had a couple of surgeries and had access to pain pills, I started mixing them with alcohol and pretty soon, I couldn’t stop or limit the amount no matter what and it led to the destruction of everything good in my life.
“I was hopeless and I got to a spot where my only option was to continue to use and that led to September 9th, the day where my only option seemed to be to finish that little bit of heroin that I had and it ended up being too much.
“I would have been the next statistic,” he adds. “I would have been the next kid that started with pain pills and eventually got to heroin, overdosed and died at 20 years old.”
But he wasn’t and now his mission is to be of service to others that are in need.
“Something clicked for me on April 16, 2006 (his sober anniversary) and it has given me an opportunity to be available for all kinds of stuff,” McGee begins. “When I was told I couldn’t compete, it wasn’t the end of the world. It wasn’t a reason for me to go out and get drunk. It wasn’t a reason for me to say, ‘Poor me. I’ve got to give up the fighting and go back to work.’ It was an opportunity.
“Over this last year, I helped start and develop a company that will work. For the mom that is stuck at home, strung out on benzodiazepines and a closet drinker, she’s deathly afraid to reach out for help because she doesn’t know where to go. She can go to Hope 361.
“I represent all those people who are struggling out there,” he continues, echoing the sentiment he shared in the center of the Octagon on June 19, 2010, tears running down his cheeks, after winning The Ultimate Fighter. “I’m one of the people that made it out and my job is to be a beacon of hope.
“I want to be the attraction to recovery because I didn’t think I could go one day without a drink or a drug and I know there are millions and millions of people in this world right now that are in the exact same spot. There is somebody out there that doesn’t know that you can get sober, stay sober, be happy and have an awesome life. Maybe they need to hear me or someone else speak and the platform to do that is through Hope 361.
“And for me, doing this provides me the opportunity to not drink or use today and wake up sober tomorrow. As long as I don’t use today, everything is going to be okay.”
For more information Hope 361, please check out their website at http://hope361.com/.