Player Down: How Hard Drugs Nearly Destroyed a Top YK Athlete

The three Hinchey brothers wore onesies. One was a panda. One was a penguin. Devin was a kangaroo.

They passed around their Christmas gifts to each other at one o’clock in the morning on December 17, 2014. In between the unwrapping, Devin and his parents took turns crying.

After years of lies, theft and substance abuse — much of it in Yellowknife — 19-year-old Devin Hinchey began his sober life dressed as a kangaroo.

Cocaine and alcohol had left one of Canada’s leading squash players helpless, until one sentence from his mother changed everything.

This is the story of how Devin’s life fell apart.

***

“It’s an amazing thing to watch your kid mature before your eyes. The difference between an active 19-year-old addict and a 20-year-old sober for 16 months is amazing.”

Brent Hinchey watched his son deteriorate, mentally and physically, for years without being able to fully understand what was going on.

By the time Devin Hinchey reached the Canadian national squash final, he was taking ecstasy daily.

While Devin’s parents had suspicions, they could not bring themselves to believe their teenager was a drug addict.

“I didn’t have any crazy shit happen to me as a kid,” says Devin. “There’s nothing from my childhood that I can remember screwing me up.”

But Devin was a child of extremes. In class, he wanted attention — and remembers feeling either “extremely negative or extremely positive” when he got the reaction he craved.

As he grew up in Yellowknife, his days were driven by sports — hockey, squash, volleyball and more, often back-to-back.

He played his first competitive squash tournament in Victoria at the age of nine.

His first drink came at the age of 13.

“I can look back on it now and see I was an alcoholic from the very beginning,” he says. “That was the first time I drank on my own. I lied about it, I stole the alcohol, and I manipulated someone else into drinking with me.”

Devin and a friend stole coolers from his parents’ fridge, then blamed their absence on his older brother, Chad. It’s hardly a unique play: millions of people will have done something virtually identical at some point in their childhood. But it is the first event Devin remembers in the long chain that would follow.

“I never craved drink or wanted it super-badly but I’d go to a party, someone would hand me a beer, and I would fit in. I had a hard time feeling a connection to anyone and when I drank, I felt what I thought was that.”

In grade 10, he smoked pot for the first time. He persuaded a childhood friend to help him — not difficult, as it turned out the friend had become a dealer. Devin smoked weed a handful of times that year, getting almost as high from the “sneakiness” as from the act itself. He stayed out of trouble. Sports were going well. School was just fine.

Then came a move away from home that had profound consequences.

Squash had begun to dominate Devin’s life, to the point where he and his parents could imagine him going to an American school and pursuing the sport at NCAA level.

When unseeded Devin won a junior tournament, the deans of two private schools approached the Hinchey family with offers. In the end, the family settled on a third option: a school in Ontario with access to some of Canada’s best squash facilities.

That school was Premier Elite Athletes’ Collegiate, or PEAC — which billed itself as a “school for elite athletes.” The school no longer exists under that name: it ceased to operate following what the Toronto Star termed “financial disarray” around a change of ownership in 2014 and 2015. A separate academy now occupies the same site.

Connor McDavid is a PEAC alumnus, as are PK Subban’s two younger brothers, Jordan and Malcolm.

“The director of the school promised all of these great things: a specialized meal plan, training plans, rides to practices and tournaments,” says Devin. “They said they would cater to you so you can worry about playing sports.”

However, shortly after Devin arrived, a problem with the school’s boarding house saw the students relocated to accommodation in a nearby hotel instead.

While supervisors were installed at the hotel to look after students, Devin says he barely saw them — and could get away with just about anything.

“I was 16 years old. I could have gone out somewhere every single night and they wouldn’t have known,” he says.

“Once we got put in the hotel, I became very depressed. I was calling my parents every week — breaking down, sobbing — telling them to get me the hell out of there and bring me home.”

But there was a catch. To come home, Devin would have to return to Yellowknife’s Sir John Franklin high school and complete his final year there. Despite his predicament in Ontario, Devin could not face that prospect. “Tough it out,” he told himself. “You’ll get through.”

“While I was playing, I would leave money in my squash bag: this guy would grab the money, put the drugs in my bag and zip it back up.”

The decision to send Devin to that school, and allow him to remain, would loom large in his parents’ minds after what followed.

In February 2013, electronic dance group Swedish House Mafia blasted through Toronto on their farewell tour. Devin had tickets. That gig was the first time he tried MDMA, the drug better known as ecstasy.

“I got kind of scared,” he remembers, “but I did it and it was the same experience I had when I smoked weed for the first time — but on steroids.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I see clearly now.’ I felt it. It made my life better. It gave me that happiness I was looking for immediately. ‘This is how I want to feel all the time.’”

Soon enough, that was how Devin felt all the time.

***

When Devin Hinchey reached the Canadian national squash final, he was taking ecstasy daily.

Not just a junior final, but the national men’s final. As a teenager existing on hard drugs, Big Macs and two hours’ sleep a night.

“It was a perfect scenario for a drug addict: all of your matches are in the evening, you have nothing to do during the day and the squash club sells alcohol,” he says.

“While I was playing, I would leave money in my squash bag: this guy would grab the money, put the drugs in my bag and zip it back up.”

He came undone in the final, losing in near-record time. But, remarkably, Devin became Canada’s second-best male squash player in spite of a serious and growing drug problem.

Does he ever imagine what could have happened if he had been clean?

“All the time. Up until the beginning of this year, all the time. How good could I have been? Would I have made the world championship team? That was my shot.

“If I had been drug-tested at any point, they would have banned me. It is a miracle I wasn’t. A miracle.”

Miracle may be the wrong word. Untested and unchecked, Devin — now studying at the University of Western Ontario, since his grades weren’t good enough for a US school — slipped further into depression.

At the end of September 2013, Brent called to tell his son that the house had been broken into. Maybe a friend left a side door open during a party the night before. Devin’s mother had woken to a strange man assaulting her. The man escaped. Money and liquor were missing.

A few months later, the family dog died.

That Christmas, back in Yellowknife and hating being in the house where the assault had happened, he tried cocaine for the first time. He didn’t enjoy that experience, and yet the drug would slowly come to dominate his life.

Back at university, the first months of 2014 passed in a blur of mindless partying. Devin had abandoned all restraint.

“I started doing things like acid, ketamine, oxycontin. Any drug you name, there’s a good chance it’s been inside my body,” he says. “My go-to was MDMA because it made me feel happy. But if that wasn’t available, it was whatever was there.

“I’m 18 years old at this point, putting meth in a cap and swallowing it just to go to the bar.”

Drugs cost money. Devin picked up summer jobs in Yellowknife, but few teenagers can afford to sustain the daily habit he had now acquired. So he began to lie. It was money for textbooks, he told his parents. Money for new squash racquets. Money for sports supplements. A new calculator. Whatever worked.

“One of my friends asked me how much I was doing, and he asked how the hell I funded that — like $1,200 a day.”

“I was part of an intramural hockey team and I ordered our team jerseys. They were $1,200 — I put it on a credit card which my parents paid and I told my dad the team would pay me back in cash. I think he saw maybe $180 of that.

“I told him, ‘Well, they’re students. They’re not paying me.’ Meanwhile, I had a wad of cash in my drawer.”

His father says: “He was really creative. When he was home in Yellowknife, I started putting my wallet somewhere at night where he wouldn’t find it.

“Not that I think he ever went into it. I don’t know that. I don’t think so.”

Devin says that did happen, but it was one source of cash among many. As his parents grew suspicious and slowly cut off his access to credit cards and bank accounts, their son found new ways to pay.

“One of my friends asked me how much I was doing, and he asked how the hell I funded that — like $1,200 a day,” he remembers.

“It was stealing money, or going through my parents’ wallets, or selling my squash racquets — I’d call my sponsor, say I broke my racquets and they’d send five more. I’d sell them.

“I was doing DJing gigs, getting paid in cheques and I’d cash them. All of my energy was put into getting the drugs.”

By the summer of 2014, Devin was back at home and working for his mom at Yellowknife’s Racquet Club, which the family owns. He was planning a year out from school before transferring to a new program in Edmonton. But he was also truly crippled by addiction.

One of the responsibilities of Racquet Club staff is maintaining the club’s ATM. Devin’s mother gave him a key.

Devin began to make what he euphemistically terms “free withdrawals.” Simply unlock the ATM with the key, reach inside, and take as much as you want.

“At this point, feelings-wise, I am hating myself. Depressed all the time. I’m doing drugs to feel normal.

“A lot of my thoughts were: how did I get here? I was the captain of the national team, a varsity squash member doing all these good things, and now I can’t stop doing coke.

“I would use, feel a lot of shame and guilt because I used, and then have to use to get rid of that guilt. It was never-ending. The weight loss started, the lethargy started, the lying and not showing up for work started.”

Devin, terrified, did not sleep. It would now be impossible, surely, to cover his tracks and hide the true enormity of his addiction.

Devin had been dating his girlfriend for four months. He hid the drug habit from her, claiming instead to be suffering an anxiety disorder (which, consequently, gave him access to prescription medication — which he abused). Eventually, the dating stopped. “My relationship was with cocaine,” he says.

As 2014 ended, Devin contemplated suicide.

When he drove north out of Yellowknife, he would think about simply driving the car into the lake. Twice, he tried to lay out enough cocaine to kill himself — but it didn’t work. “It just got me extremely high and panicky and nervous.”

And so he went to bed each night, in his words, praying not to wake up in the morning.

***

“I don’t know why I asked him.”

Kelli Hinchey knew something was increasingly wrong with her withdrawn, skinny, troubled son. Kelli and husband Brent had been back and forth on the subject, in hushed tones, for months.

“I think he’s on drugs.”

“No, he’s not on drugs.”

“Well, where’s all the money going?”

“He’s got his list.”

Devin had sort of tried to tell them earlier in the fall, when he and his girlfriend broke up. He had told his parents that drugs were involved, but it had been the mildest possible retelling of the story. No real detail. Certainly not much mutual understanding. To top it off, Devin had gone on a 12-day sleepless drug binge after telling them so as to stop having to think about it.

Everything stopped, however, when Kelli said one December night: “Devin, when we go to the Racquet Club tomorrow morning, we’re going to audit the ATM machine.”

This was the point of no return.

Devin, terrified, did not sleep. It would now be impossible, surely, to cover his tracks and hide the true enormity of his addiction.

He remembers every minute of the following day, starting with the moment he came downstairs that morning.

“You have to fire me,” he told his mother, shaking. “I stole a lot of money from the ATM to use drugs.”

“How much?”

“A lot.”

Not that it mattered that day, but $3,000 was missing.

“I need help,” said Devin.

“I’m on it,” said his mother.

While Kelli made frantic phone calls — the first to Brent, at work — Garrett Hinchey arrived in the kitchen to find his youngest brother sobbing uncontrollably.

“So,” Devin remembers Garrett saying, with a comforting hand on his back, “it’s a little worse than you told us.”

That day, December 16, 2014, things happened at speed. By the early afternoon, Devin was at Yellowknife’s Tree of Peace counselling centre, preparing for rehab. Flights for the following day had been booked, heading for Nanaimo’s Edgewood resident treatment centre.

“It was a relief and it was one of the saddest days,” recalls his mother. “It was gut-wrenching. We suspected he was doing drugs but when he said cocaine, I was so shocked. And we didn’t know the full scale of it.

“I still don’t think we do.”

For Devin, there was no immediate relief in the truth coming out.

“I was extremely embarrassed. Guilt-ridden, ashamed. It was the first time I had felt anything since I went to university: sadness, because all I had done for the past year and a half was hurt my family,” he remembers.

“Holy hell, I’m 19 years old and I’m going to rehab tomorrow. What have I done with my life?”

His brother Chad, out of town until this point, arrived home for Christmas that evening to a scene he cannot possibly have anticipated. What should have been a family Christmas together was going to last a matter of hours until Devin departed for rehab.

With him, he had brought gifts for the family — including onesies for all three brothers. So the Hinchey family held Christmas together in the only time they had, the final few hours of that bleak northern winter’s night.

“We’d go from opening a present to a group hug. Present, group hug,” says Brent. “It was hard. It was emotionally really difficult.”

Brent was still struggling the next morning, when he dropped his wife and youngest son at Yellowknife Airport for the journey to treatment in BC.

Unable to hold back the tears, Devin’s father retreated to his car, tried to drive away and made it as far as Long Lake — not far at all — before pulling over and sobbing into the steering wheel.

He sent his son, standing in the check-in line, a text.

I don’t want you to think I’m upset with you, or angry with you.

I’m happy that you’re going to get help and I’m very proud that you’re my son.

“I had been feeling numb,” says Devin. “I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I heard that from my dad, so that was a huge moment for me — mainly to know he’s not angry at me. That was my biggest thing.

“I distinctly remember standing in the airport and feeling love.”

In part two, EDGE explores Devin Hinchey’s rehab journey and his efforts to help young people in the North facing a similar situation. In part three, we look at the effect of Devin’s addiction on his parents and the supports available in Yellowknife.

If you or someone you know is dealing with addiction, please visit this Department of Health and Social Services resource page for NWT residents.

Series sponsored by GNWT HSS

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