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

Just Posted

A worker at Wee Geordies Liquor Store held at knifepoint on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. A female entered the store and grabbed a bottle of liquor and produced a knife and demanded money. She was not located. (Wee Geordies video surveillance screenshot)
VIDEO: Two stores robbed on the same day in Kitimat

The first incident was at 5:45 a.m. and the second incident occurred 3:30 p.m.

Do Your Part Recycling Co is celebrating 15 years of its operation in Terrace this May. (Binny Paul/Terrace Standard)
How a homegrown Terrace business became a vital cog in the regional recycling initiative

Do Your Part Recycling owner Kasey Lewis on how they started 15 years ago

Construction continues on Coast Mountain College’s student residence on May 12, 2021. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
VIDEO: Work continues on major projects at Coast Mountain College

Price tag of $35 million set for housing, substantial renovations

Terrace city council gave first and second reading to zoning amendment bylaws for the proposed transload facility located next to Keith Ave. (Image courtesy Hatha Callis, Progressive Ventures Group)
Next inland port public hearings set for June

Terrace council gave first and second reading to establish new zone, rezoning application

Skeena Valley Farmers Market will host Northern Health’s COVID-19 vaccination booth on May 15. ( Skeena Valley Farmers Market/Facebook)
Northern Health to set up COVID-19 vaccine booth at Skeena Valley Farmers Market

The booth will be set up on the south side of the market towards Park Ave. on May 15

Conservation Service Officer Kyle Bueckert holds a gold eagle that was revived from acute rodent poisoning Monday, May 12. Photo: Submitted
‘Obviously, he’s a fighter’: Golden eagle, recovered from poisoning, back in Kootenay wild

CSO Kyle Bueckert released the eagle into the wild Thursday, May 13

Capt. Jenn Casey died in a crash just outside of Kamloops, B.C., on May 17, 2020. (CF Snowbirds)
Snowbirds to honour Capt. Casey, who died in B.C. crash, in 2021 tour

Tour will kick off in Ontario in June before heading west

A pedestrian wearing a mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 is bundled up for the cold weather as snow falls in downtown Vancouver on Saturday, February 13, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Snow possible in mountain passes as cold front hits southern B.C.

Much of B.C.’s southern interior will see temperatures plunge from highs of 30 C reached over the weekend

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Most Read