Ryan John Phillips’ life has done a complete 360.
From troublemaker hockey player to convict, Phillips now wants to show his 13-year-old daughter what a real man stands for and that, in his own words, includes integrity, values, compassion, giving back and being an upstanding member of society that can contribute.
The 37-year-old former member of the Vernon Vipers, who has relocated to Vernon, will head off on Feb. 8 cycling 545 kilometres from Vietnam to Cambodia on behalf of the Somaly Mam Foundation.
“My mission, along with a few other riders, is to raise money to help eradicate human trafficking and sex slavery,” said Phillips.
“We’re all here on earth to help each other. We all share this world together. I’m doing this bike ride because I have love in my heart and I want to help people.”
Somaly Mam, as Phillips explains, was a Cambodian girl sold into a brothel at age 12 and served many clients a day. She was abused physically and emotionally.
With the help of a French aid worker, Mam was able to escape the brothel. She has since made it her life’s mission to help save girls that have gone through the same pain and adversities.
Phillips got to meet Mam in person during his first ride a couple of years ago where 20 riders, including Phillips, raised $122,000 for the Mam foundation.
“In many cases we don’t see the results of the causes we choose to support, but my eyes saw the real deal in action,” said Phillips. “Somaly has rescued more than 8,000 victims.”
Phillips knows what it’s like to be rescued.
Pursuing his dream of becoming a hockey player, the North Vancouver native left home in his teens, living in 14 households between the ages of 16 and 20. That included Vernon in 1994-95.
He was leading the B.C. Junior Hockey League in goals scored after 16 games into the season when the Vipers cut Phillips after “being ratted out by somebody that I was in a bar, when all I was doing was dropping off some tickets for my girlfriend.
“But I had off-ice issues and some other demons,” said Phillips, who praised then-Vipers assistant coach Troy Mick with getting him a pro tryout in the Central Hockey League with the Wichita Thunder.
“He saw some talent in me,” said Phillips of Mick. “I was going through a lot of off-ice issues but he saw the good in me.”
After his pro career ended, Phillips fathered a daughter then, in his words, started hanging out with people involved in organized crime. He began shipping marijuana to the United States.
In 2000, he was caught, arrested and convicted, and spent more than 500 days in a federal penitentiary for conspiracy to import marijuana.
“I went from hockey prospect to small cell where I was claustrophobic,” said Phillips.
What helped him get through his incarceration was the love of his parents and good friends. Yet, upon release from prison, an awakening process for Phillips didn’t happen overnight.
Seven years ago, he said, he woke up and couldn’t look at himself in the mirror anymore.
“I wanted to stand for good,” said Phillips. “To talk the talk, I had to walk the walk.”
He started by wanting to make a film of nothing but pure happiness. Phillips went with a friend and, armed with 80 soccer balls and cases and cases of fresh water, visited a school in Indonesia built by a friend whose parents were killed in the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in 2004.
The hour-long film, titled Return To Happiness, which also includes the bike ride and meeting with Somaly Mam, will be available for worldwide distribution this spring.
Phillips’ has also written a book about his life. Return To Happiness: The Journey, which is also slated to be released this year.
To make a donation to Phillips’ bike trip, go to www.simplygiving.com.
To learn more about Phillips’ upcoming journey, go to YouTube and enter “The Fight For Change” in the search engine.