A First Nations support worker at Columneetza Campus in Williams Lake does not take things for granted.
“I love where I’m at in my life right now,” Rick Lulua, 51, said.
For Lulua to get to this point, it was no easy feat.
He survived residential school and a near-fatal, train-pedestrian collision in which he lost his right arm and several fingers on his left hand.
“That was a direct result of alcohol and drug addiction, which came from me not dealing with what happened to me in residential school,” Lulua said. “I’ve since dealt with that, and it’s all in my past now.”
“I have to move forward; otherwise, I wouldn’t love what I do now,” he said of riding his motorcycle, playing and coaching basketball, hunting and fishing.”
“All of these things I’m thankful for in my life today because if I wasn’t, I’d probably be six feet under right now from addiction.”
Lulua grew up in the Chilcotin with his grandparents between what is known as Henry’s Crossing and the store at Tatla Lake. His mother, Marlene, at Alkali Lake struggled with alcoholism, and his father from Nemiah was not a good man, he said.
Like most First Nations children at the time, Lulua would attend residential school where he would be stripped and shamed of his cultural identity, spirituality and language.
He was five years old when a bus first came to pick him up for St. Joseph’s Mission near Williams Lake. There, Lulua said he was not allowed to speak with his younger sister, Sharmon, even if they happened to be near each other.
It was not until 1980 Lulua and his sister would leave the notorious school.
Sharmon was first picked up by their mother, who was successful in a two-year court battle after becoming sober.
They would stay a couple of years at Alkali Lake before moving to Squilax, located on the northeast end shore of Little Shuswap Lake near Chase, where Marlene was stationed as an RCMP officer.
In 1990 the family moved to Williams Lake, in which year Lulula graduated and worked at the historic Gang Ranch before becoming a firefighter in the summer of 1995.
Throughout his adult life, he struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. A life-altering incident made matters worse.
Lulua recalled in 1996 how he was not allowed back in a club called Mikki’s Cabaret located on Mackenzie Avenue in Williams Lake. He was beaten and robbed before he found himself on the railway tracks below.
As the bright lights and sounds of a train engine approached, Lulua said he knew he had to get up. His mind was screaming to, but his body wouldn’t move. He pushed his head out of the way, rolling onto his back, but his right arm got caught on the train, which would drag him 100 yards.
“She saved my life,” Lulua said of a 19-year-old nurse who noticed a faint sliver of heart activity on the monitor and continued working on him.
“They already said I was dead, and she scribbled out dead and wrote alive,” he said.
After being transferred to a hospital in Vancouver, Lulua continued to drift in and out of consciousness.
He said he could not remember the moment he had agreed for his right arm to be amputated. Hospital staff told him the bones were like a piece of chalk that had fallen to the ground and had been stepped on to nothing but fine fragments and dust.
Three of his vertebrae were also broken in the accident.
Lulua would require 14 surgeries on his back before leaving the hospital after nearly a year.
He lived at Alkali Lake where he drove to Williams Lake to take classes in computers and technology at Cariboo College.
During that time Lulua said he found the strength to achieve sobriety through his son, Patrick Lulua, who was 12-years-old at the time, and the support of his family.
“I couldn’t have done it without the community of Alkali Lake,” he added, in which his oldest brother, Fred Robbins, currently serves as Esk’etemc First Nation chief. He credits his stepfather, Phillip Robbins, in teaching him to be the man he is today.
Lulua has been sober since Feb. 18, 2006, and doesn’t let his physical disability hold him back.
He said his youngest child, 14-year old Kayla Hink, is one of the main reasons he coaches girls basketball at Lake City Secondary School’s Columneetza Campus.
In the summer months, the only vehicle he has insured is his custom-built motorcycle, which he said Honda helped design for him.
“I’m just Rick; another human on planet Earth doing what he can to get by sometimes,” Lulua said, noting his story is far from over.
“If I’m an inspiration, I’d like to be the best inspiration I could possibly be.”