Thursday, April 17, 2014
STANDISH — The speeding tickets piled up but Kyle Shangraw didn't care. When he looked in a mirror, the sight of his sunken eyes and hollowed-out cheeks didn't register.
Eight years ago, he was the touted Westbrook High soccer star expected to do wonderful things in college. Instead his passion for the game was replaced by the urgency to score the drugs that could kill him.
"I was using heroin, prescription pills," said Shangraw. "The only thing I cared about was getting to my suppliers and getting what I needed. Nothing else mattered."
Saturday afternoon, Shangraw scored the goal that gave Saint Joseph's College its 1-0 win over Norwich University. He redirected Zach Johnson's free kick with his head into the top left corner of the net for his fifth goal of the season and Saint Joseph's fifth straight win.
He celebrates being with new teammates, including a few he knows from his days at Westbrook High. He celebrates his 26th birthday on Sunday.
He'll celebrate by not shooting up, popping a pill, smoking a joint or taking a drink. He no longer dances with the devil. In another three months he'll celebrate four full years of sobriety.
Shangraw doesn't worry how or when he'll get his next batch of drugs. He has different concerns. Like staying close to the 3.6 grade-point average he scored after his return to a college classroom last winter. Like sharpening the focus of his term papers in his business management classes. Like being a good teammate.
Saint Joseph's now is 5-2-1 and has a good chance to win more games in its Great Northeast Athletic Conference. The Monks can make noise in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
This is Shangraw's last semester of athletic eligibility. The sands in the hourglass are emptying, quickly.
"I think about that all the time. It's what motivates me."
The small private college on the shores of Sebago Lake is Shangraw's third stop after high school. After two years at Bryant Stratton Junior College in Syracuse, N.Y., and a third year at the University of Maine, he dropped out of sight to enter a drug treatment center in Connecticut.
He left, suffered a relapse, and returned to rehab. He lost years from his life. More importantly, he didn't lose his life. The names of those who did in the past year are on a list on a wall at the treatment center in Canaan, Conn.
"About 60, 70 names," said Shangraw.
"I know people from my life growing up who have died (from overdoses). It's so easy to relapse."
Shangraw scored 17 goals at Westbrook, was an SMAA all-star and using marijuana frequently. While at Bryant Stratton he made regular six-hour drives back to Westbrook to hook up with drug suppliers. That's when he picked up his speeding tickets. After transferring to Maine, he sometimes made excuses of going back into the locker room during warm-ups and veered off to meet with suppliers.
He lost about 40 pounds off his normal playing weight of 180 pounds. His family noticed and became concerned, but Shangraw had to make the decision himself: He needed help.
Last year, Zach Johnson told Coach Steve Babineau about Shangraw's touch with the ball and his playmaking. He's not in school, coach. He might have some eligibility left.
Johnson had been a younger teammate at Westbrook High. He knew Shangraw was sober and in excellent condition playing club soccer again. Babineau made the call.
Shangraw went public with his addiction in 2012. He has spoken to Westbrook students about his road to hell and back. One by one, he has talked with Saint Joseph's teammates. He doesn't preach. This is who I was, this is who I am.
He is a presence on the soccer field this season. He plays with instincts that separate him from opponents who react a second too slowly.
"You can't coach that," said Babineau. "That's all Kyle."
Shangraw sees more turnovers in Division III soccer than he remembers playing Division I at Maine.
"But that means more opportunities to counterattack and that's my game."
He lives in a one-bedroom house off campus with his 1-year-old bull mastiff, Ellie. He's happy.
He is no longer Saint Joseph's secret advantage on the soccer field, which is fine with him. He's done living a secret.
Steve Solloway can be contacted at: