Willy's Story: On the Run
“I've always been a ghetto kid,” Willy explains. “And if you don't know what I mean, let's just say welfare kid, it'll be easier for you to understand.”
Growing up in East Vancouver, Willy was the youngest of three children in a family wrought with struggles.
Willy’s older brother, Dustin, is a career criminal and has been stealing cars and robbing banks since he was a little kid. His sister, Amanda, suffered a long battle with drug and alcohol addiction. His father is a heroin addict.
“I am, however, blessed with an amazing mother, which is probably the main reason I turned out different than most,” Willy reflects.
“In Grade 8, I decided to go to an alternative school,” Willy explains. “I wasn't forced, I chose it. But it was there that I started smoking weed. At first just on weekends, then gradually it progressed to everyday, multiple times a day. I could smoke $100 worth of weed a day. There was a running joke that if you cut me, I'd bleed green.”
Though Willy struggled with substance abuse and family trauma, he felt the urge to run. First 5km races, then 10kms. And then, in Grade 9, he ran his first half marathon.
“That’s when I heard about Yo Bro and met Joe Calendino,” Willy remembers. “To me Joe was a badass ex-biker who was going teach me to fight. Who would've known how my life was going to change.”
Willy became a regular at Yo Bro – both at martial arts classes, and at other workshops and activities where he could learn from and connect with mentors.
“I wanted to believe I could be more than a ghetto kid,” he explains. “Through Yo Bro, I started to gain confidence, talked more and felt better about myself in general.”
Today, Willy is clean and sober. He regularly runs full marathons, has a blue belt in martial arts, is in a committed relationship, and is a Senior Mentor at Yo Bro | Yo Girl.
“I am at a point I never thought possible to reach,” Willy says. “I am thankful for all of the opportunities I have been given, and will continue to make you all proud.”