When Canadian sports fans think of Rod Pedersen, they think of the outspoken voice of the Saskatchewan Roughriders—but if Pedersen were to describe himself, he’d say he’s an introvert.
Growing up, Pedersen remembers spending most of his days reading on a stack of bales, disinterested in talking to people—until he had his first sip of alcohol.
The Milestone, Sask. native was 16 when he started drinking at farm parties and using booze as a “magic potion” to talk to girls. Back then, Pedersen says alcohol symbolized fun, sociability and being with friends.
That relationship with alcohol continued past graduation when Pedersen moved to Calgary to study broadcasting. To earn some extra cash, he got a job as a bouncer at a local bar, before diving into the alcohol-fuelled culture of the sports industry.
It didn’t take long before booze became a problem. He knew he’d have to quit, but he punted that thought to the back of his mind until his late 30s.
Pedersen’s father, also a recovering alcoholic, got sober when he was about 37. It was around this same age that Pedersen began making a “conscious effort” to quit drinking, too, but “physically could not.”
“I would be crying on the phone to my mom,” Pedersen remembers. “I would say, ‘I’m not as strong as Dad—he quit on his own and I just can’t do it.’ So I gave up on myself, and that’s when I guess I hit rock bottom.”
But Pedersen was a high-functioning alcoholic. Despite being at his lowest, he was offered his dream job as the voice of the Calgary Flames—and then lost it, due to his drinking.
To deal with the loss, Pedersen drank more and took anti-depressants.
“I thought I’d drink myself to death,” Pedersen admits, before rubbing his hands together and resting his chin on his knuckles. “I couldn’t kill myself—I thought about it. I just thought that, one way or another, I just wasn’t worth being around.”
Those thoughts persisted until Jan. 26, 2015 when a normal day on-air turned into one he can’t remember, but will never forget.
He often drank during his sports talk show, but that afternoon—with anti-depressants also in his system—Pedersen was incoherent and his supervisor sent him home. That was the last time he ever drank alcohol.
The next day at work, surrounded by three of his bosses from Harvard Broadcasting, Pedersen was told to seek help for his addiction or he would lose his job. That’s when his road to recovery began.
He sought counselling and started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, which he still attends today. At first, he confesses, it was hard staying sober—even with the support from family and close friends.
Pedersen says his first sober Grey Cup was particularly challenging.
“(Strangers) were pushing me to drink; there was an open bar,” he recalls. “They didn’t know my story. I wasn’t going to say in front of 200 people, ‘I’m in recovery—I’m a recovering alcoholic.’”
It wasn’t until Sept. 20, 2016 that Pedersen went public at a Recovery Day luncheon in Regina. After that, he says the calls started pouring in—from friends and strangers alike—asking him for help with their addictions. That’s when it hit him; he had a new calling in life.
“My purpose isn’t to call hockey games—I can do that in my sleep,” Pedersen explains. “My purpose is to be helping people.”
Today, three to four times a week, Pedersen says he sits down with people in the community to listen to their stories and support them in their recovery. Even though his goal is to help others, Pedersen says, in a way, he’s also helping himself.
“Every time you look into someone’s eyes who’s struggling, it’s a reminder that you don’t want to go back to that lifestyle,” says Pedersen.
Despite being sober for two years, he continues to broadcast from sports bars. However, now, Pedersen says he does his job and goes home—something his long-time friend and colleague, Luc Mullinder, believes is a true testament of his strength and dedication to recovery.
“To this day, people will come up and put drinks in front of him (while he’s broadcasting) because he’s expected to be that life of the party,” explains Mullinder. “Now, he just turns (the drinks) away and thanks them.”
According to Pedersen, over the last couple of years, he has shifted back into the introvert he was before he discovered alcohol. He says his life is a lot quieter now that the party’s over.
“I’m wishing it would have (ended) earlier, but I don’t look back,” Pedersen shrugs, before taking a swig of his coffee. “I’m a lot happier now.”