Rick Lulua, 51, is grateful for his life and sobriety following a life-changing incident in 1996 and hopes to inspire the next generation of adults through his role as a First Nations support worker at Columneetza. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Rick Lulua, 51, is grateful for his life and sobriety following a life-changing incident in 1996 and hopes to inspire the next generation of adults through his role as a First Nations support worker at Columneetza. (Rebecca Dyok photo)

Northern B.C. man appreciates little things in life after surviving tragedy

The residential school survivor – now basketball coach – reflecs on how important community is

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.”

READ MORE: Tl’etinqox women find strength at former B.C. Interior residential school site

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.

Read More: Residential-school survivors call on Ottawa and provinces for monuments

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.”


Do you have a comment about this story? email:
rebecca.dyok@wltribune.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Health and wellnessIndigenous

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Port of Prince Rupert has experienced another year of increased cargo volumes, shipped through the city, with more than $50 billion in international trade facilitated through the area, the Port Authority announced on Jan. 18. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Port cargo volume growth continues despite pandemic obstacles

Prince Rupert Port authority announces $50 billion in international trade

The IIO B.C. is seeking witnesses to an arrest made in Penticton on Nov. 8, during which the male resisted and sustained a head injury. (File Photo)
The Independent InvestigationsOffice of B.C. released a report on Jan. 18 that a Prince Rupert RCMP officer is cleared of any serious harm wrongdoing from a May 29, 2020 incident. (File Photo)
Police watchdog investigation clears Prince Rupert police officer

IIO investigated May 29 incident where woman fell 25 metres in Prince Rupert

Face masks are required to be worn in all SD 52 common areas such as hallways. School District 52 announced on Jan. 15 three different schools in Prince Rupert all had a member of the school community test positive for COVID-19. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
3 Prince Rupert schools have positive COVID-19 case(s)

Letters sent home to families in three Prince Rupert schools announcing COVID-19

Power outages affected thousands of BC Hydro customers in the north on Jan. 14 (File photo) (File photo)
Power outages affect thousands of BC Hydro customers in northern B.C.

Transmission failure led to outages in Prince Rupert and Port Edward

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou on Vancouver Island

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

The IIO B.C. is seeking witnesses to an arrest made in Penticton on Nov. 8, during which the male resisted and sustained a head injury. (File Photo)
The Independent InvestigationsOffice of B.C. released a report on Jan. 18 that a Prince Rupert RCMP officer is cleared of any serious harm wrongdoing from a May 29, 2020 incident. (File Photo)
Police watchdog investigation clears Prince Rupert police officer

IIO investigated May 29 incident where woman fell 25 metres in Prince Rupert

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Most Read