Legends: Bernie Parent Has a Secret

Hall of Fame Flyers goalie Bernie Parent has endured a career-ending injury, ­alcoholism, divorce, and the death of his star pupil. So why is he so happy?

No moment in a pro athlete’s career is tougher than the day he says goodbye to the game. Rock stars have it easy — Keith Richards can fill stadiums until his fingers won’t bend anymore, but in sports, as the body breaks down through injury or attrition, every athlete faces the time when the adrenaline and the cheers will disappear. Some, like wide receiver Jerry Rice, can’t let go, and linger a little too long. For others, it ends in one moment. Two weeks after the injury, Parent’s vision returned, but his right eye would never focus properly again. His goaltending days were over. Retirement? He hadn’t given it a thought. With a family to support and no backup plan for his life, he was terrified. All the structure he’d known — games, practice, the camaraderie of the locker room, his technique — was taken away. Parent was a goalie without a system, in hockey or outside of it.

Alcohol filled the void, and as Parent lost control of his drinking, his wife, Carol, gave him an Alcoholics Anonymous quiz with 24 questions. Answer three with a “yes,” and you’re probably in trouble. Parent answered 23 positively; “The 24th,” he says, “I lied about.” Parent put himself in AA, which he calls “The Program,” and 12 Steps replaced X’s and O’s as his game plan. “It made me realize that life has peaks and valleys,” he says. “I’m grateful that I’m an alcoholic. The accident, that took me to where I am today, one step at a time. And each step gets better and better.”