Once homeless, Malcolm Hooper, 22, has found a home both with the Durham College rugby team and as a public speaker.
Hooper, captain of the Lords’ team, has been on an emotional, rocky journey that started in Orangeville, Ont. before his arrival at Durham in 2016.
Growing up, Hooper didn’t have the easiest life.
He was in the foster system since he was born. He was adopted at the age of three by a family in Orangeville, Ont. but that transition was met by many difficulties.
Hooper says he saw therapists and there were times when the Children’s Aid Society was called to the house. The therapists told his parents that when Hooper had a temper tantrum, they should put him outside to ‘cool off’ – and that’s exactly what the family did.
“This was the first big sign of being alone and being isolated,” Hooper says.
Fast forward more than a decade. Hooper was late from basketball practice one night and his adoptive parents kicked him out.
“They dragged me upstairs, packed all my stuff up. They took out my birth certificate, passport, and debit card and gave it to me. My dad dragged me down the steps and threw me out,” he says.
“I was 16 years old, with $15 in my bank account, out on the streets in the middle of January.”
When his parents left that night, he snuck into the garage attic where there was a storage space and laid there and cried. There was no heat and it was pitch black.
Hooper had nowhere else to go, so banged on the door to go back inside. His dad finally let him in, but kicked him back out the next morning at 5:30 a.m.
“I went to high school and pretended like nothing happened, it was a six-hour distraction for me,” Hooper says.
His adoptive parents didn’t let him play sports besides hockey, but when he was on his own he tried out for every sports team his high school offered.
“I ended up with the coaches’ award one year because I was on all the teams and the captain of the basketball, rugby, and badminton teams,” he says.
After being alone on the streets for two weeks, he went to his friend Blake’s house – and still lives there. Tammy and Everton, Blake’s parents, told Hooper they were going to do everything they could to help him reach his goals.
“At 16, my goal was to be an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. I wanted to go to the Royal Military College (RMC) and finish with a degree in business,” Hooper says.
His RMC dream died, even though he was accepted into the school, after he failed his medical due to his asthma.
Hooper never really talked about his past until one day he saw an email saying he could win $250 for giving a two-minute speech about the theme of ‘community’. He entered and ended up winning the contest.
He then found a website called Speaker Slam and decided to sign up for it. He got accepted into the competition and walked away winning again – by speaking about growing up in Orangeville.
Those experiences have led him to become a regular at Speaker Slam events.
With RMC out of the question, Hooper found himself at Durham, currently studying business.
The first year he played rugby at Durham was the inaugural season for the team, and that was when he became captain.
Last year the Lords won the Ontario colleges’ championship, and Hooper was announced as the MVP for the season.
“Our captain wasn’t chosen because he was the highest point scorer or some statistical reason,” teammate Jordon Henry says.
“He’s captain because he is able to make every player no matter what skill level or age, feel a part of this team. He makes everyone feel valued and included.
“Malcolm has never been one to hide his past and the difficult road he’s taken to get where he is. He is truly one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet,” Henry adds.
But now Hooper has another challenge ahead of him.
During DC’s Oct. 11 game, Hooper broke his foot, which required surgery.
“The team said they were going to win the game for me, everyone knew how much it meant to me,” Hooper says.
(The Lords play again Saturday, Nov. 2 at 1 p.m. in the Ontario colleges semifinal against Seneca at Thompson Park in Raglan.)
Hooper wanted to play pro rugby in 2020, but because of the injury he hopes to try out in the future.
“All it does is motivate me to take this surgery well and get into athletic therapy. The goal didn’t change, just the time frame did,” he adds.