Glenn Kulka Dealing with Demons
round midnight, back in April 2000, his thoughts blurred by a mind-bending mixture of cocaine, vodka and pot, former football star Glenn Kulka pointed a 16-gauge shotgun at the head of his purebred black Labrador retriever, Rocco.
Looking every bit the biker bad guy with long hair and goatee, wearing two leather jackets - one a gift from wrestler Road Warrior Hawk - Kulka had a plan in place as he and Rocco walked the kilometre to a park near Petrie Island from an apartment in Ottawa’s east end.
“I had been drinking, snorting and smoking. This was rock bottom,” Kulka said. “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I put the barrel of the gun into my mouth. But then I thought, ‘I can’t leave Rocco here. He’ll get lost and won’t find his way home.’ So I stuck the barrel between his eyes.
“I looked at Rocco and couldn’t shoot him. It sounds ridiculous, but that’s what saved my life.”
His jaw bruised from the gun being in his mouth, Kulka walked home, shook his girlfriend, Mariko, and told her he needed help.
“I was surprised. He hid it very well,” said Mariko, now his wife. “I didn’t know how desperate he was.”
Kulka spent a week and a half in detox and 28 days in rehab.
“I completely and totally thank God,” he said. “I needed professional help or I was going to harm myself or others. You’re constantly chasing. You’re either wasted or looking to get something to get you wasted.”
Kulka, now 48, played in the CFL from 1986 to 1995 with Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Saskatchewan and Ottawa before becoming a wrestler.
In January 2000, Kulka was in a four-vehicle crash in Ottawa, on Hwy 417. He walked back and forth on the highway telling anybody who would listen he was sorry. Confused, he thought he might have fallen asleep at the wheel and felt badly for the others.
Around the same time, he was dumped by the WWF. It was a blueprint for disaster.
“I was taking every drug you can imagine … cat tranquillizers, cocaine, ecstasy … I was a full-blown alcoholic and addict. I was way beyond trying to figure out why it was going on.
“I can remember at one point, my accountant looked at me and $13,000 or $14,000 was unaccounted for. I had no answer. But I knew where it had gone.”
Nicknamed The Kulkster, he lived footloose and fancy free. It was a life punctuated with danger.
At 19, he had Gotta Win tattooed on his right shoulder. He lived by the code.
It was surprising that Kulka even made it as far as he did. Dozens of concussions caused by the brute force of helmet meeting helmet coupled with the damage done to his body with needles full of chemicals, the self-destructive lifestyle was bound to catch up with him.
He was impulsive. After losing 38-36 to the Edmonton Eskimos in the 1987 Grey Cup, Kulka, then a Toronto Argonaut, chugged a bottle of peach schnapps like it was tap water.
When he started out in the CFL in 1986, Kulka was told he needed to bulk up to remain a defensive lineman in Edmonton. That’s when he discovered steroids.
“Nobody cares how you get results,’ Kulka said. “It doesn’t matter how you do it or how you get there, you have to win. I had to be as big, fast and strong as I could.
“A friend offered me dianabol, he said it would make me stronger. I broke it in half and I had multivitamins wrapped around it. It was like a Fred Flintstone chewable.
“There was no league policy against any kind of performance-enhancing drugs. I had to keep up with the Joneses. It wasn’t until Ben Johnson got caught that things got crazy for everybody.”
Soon, he was injecting steroids into his thighs, shoulders, triceps and butt cheeks.
“It doesn’t make a bad athlete good, but it can make a good athlete great,” Kulka said. “You’re injecting yourself and you’re sweating bullets. You are morally trying to check yourself. But you’d see the results and it wasn’t a problem after that.”
He put on 15 pounds in six weeks. He once bench-pressed 225 pounds 53 times.
Steroids weren’t the only thing on his cocktail menu.
At age 13, he had been sneaking shots of whisky, vodka and Drambuie from his parents' liquor cabinet.
“I was the youngest of four and I used to take a pickle jar and pour a bit of everything in. By the weekend, the jar was full," Kulka said.
He also began using drugs, mostly pot. It wasn’t just that he enjoyed it. The highs masked his insecurity.
In 1992, he was busted for possession of cocaine, 1.5 grams of it found in his loaner car at 2 a.m. in front of a strip club. At the time, he was playing for the Ottawa Rough Riders.
“I was drunk. I thought about how badly I had f—ed up,” Kulka said. “My father (Stan) called me from Edmonton while I was driving home. If he’d been angry, it would have been easier. He was disappointed. It’s the people that you hurt that make you feel bad.”
Twenty years later, the past 12 sober, Kulka believes he has found his way. The Kulkas have two children -10-year-old Laura and eight-year-old Jaxson.
“I always realized what a wonderful man he was,” Mariko said. “When he hit rock bottom, there were questions about our future. But I just wanted him to get better. We call it his evil twin - the person that he was. We had to get the evil twin in the past.”
Kulka has broadened his spectrum. He is making an impact in society. He acted in a Shakespeare play, As You Like It.
He reads the Bible.
And he has made peace with himself, working with young athletes and telling his powerful story to help others. It’s a message worth listening to, a message that can turn other lives around. No matter how deep the hole, you can pull yourself out.
“As a Christian, I was put on this earth to share my experiences … to deter others before they go down the same path,” Kulka said. “I always believed in a higher power, though not necessarily God. It wasn’t until I connected the dots that everything came together. I can be a good father and a good husband.”
Four years ago, he had the words Only God Can Judge Me tattooed on his right forearm.
He is a personal trainer at Sculpt Conditioning in Stittsville, Ont., alcohol-free for eight years.
“When all the lights went out, after I was done playing football, I would drink a 26er of vodka (a day). I was a happy drunk,” said Kulka, who taped a picture of his kids on to the steering wheel of his car to be his constant slap of reality. “It’s a daily grind. You’re an addict and alcoholic for the rest of your life.
“I put myself in every high-risk group there was. I’ve done things I can’t even tell you. I’m ashamed of a lot of things I’ve done. I was cruising at 9,000 r.p.m. for a lot of years. So I don’t take my days for granted. I look my kids in the eyes and knowing I’m going to die early is a tough pill to swallow.”
“When I hear him say that, when he wonders whether he’ll be around for his daughter’s wedding, I get a huge lump in my throat,” Mariko said.
Kulka has an angel and a devil tattooed on his left arm. Good vs. evil.
And that is the moral conundrum … every day. Right now, the good is winning.
‘I BELIEVE BECAUSE OF MY ADDICTION I DIDN’T PLAY IN THE NHL’
Glenn Kulka was a good CFL player, he was a good-looking wrestling up-and-comer and he wasn’t afraid to give MMA a try, either.
But the fact he didn’t get to the NHL still eats at the 6-foot-2, 255-pounder.
“I was an assistant captain with the Medicine Hat Tigers (during the early 1980s),” Kulka said. “I believe because of my addiction I didn’t play in the NHL. It was the most disappointing day of my life when I didn’t get drafted (in 1982). I was supposed to go in the sixth round. I think it was because I was a wing-nut, not worth the risk."
In 1994, he got a pro hockey shot, signing with the Hampton Roads Admirals of the East Coast Hockey League. The coach was John Brophy, who had been behind the Toronto Maple Leafs bench six years earlier. A defenceman, Kulka got two goals and one assist in nine games.
“I was 282 pounds on skates,” Kulka said. “I was the largest professional hockey player in the world at that time.”
As a wrestler on the WWF circuit, Kulka trained with Bret Hart during the late 1990s. He battled guys like The Rock, and beat Adam Copeland (then Sexton Hardcastle).
But Kulka blew out a knee and was told by the WWF in 2000 he wasn’t needed.
“They were putting a wellness policy into place and they were trying to weed out the bad guys," Kulka said.
At age 44, he became an MMA fighter, competing in three bouts.
He might be the only athlete to play three pro sports.
NOT EASY TO PLAY IN OTTAWA
Glenn Kulka loved playing football. But like others who played in Ottawa during the dog days from 1990 to 1994, he had his struggles.
“By my second or third year here, it was such a hard place to play football,” Kulka said. “A lot of guys were using drugs and alcohol to get through.
“Steve Goldman, Ron Smeltzer, the Gliebermans … they came and went,” he said, referring to two former Rough Riders head coaches and former owners Bernie Glieberman and son Lonie.
“You know you’re not going to be successful when half the guys in the locker room are just looking to stay healthy, get through the season and get the hell out of there.
“When we went 9-9 (in 1992), everybody was running around here like we had won the Grey Cup. Signing there, three years for $230,000, was the worst mistake I ever made. That was a lot of money in the CFL those days.”