He remembers waiting in an apartment hallway in an unsavoury Surrey neighbourhood while his cohorts extracted a debt owed to them, the drugs they paid him with hidden under his shirt, pressed tightly against his skin.
At nearly 22 years old, struggling with drug addiction while working in a factory making mattresses, without having graduated or earned his high school diploma, Cam Armitage felt he was at the lowest point of his life.
But the words of his foreman, whom he had talked to about his struggles, kept repeating themselves in his head.
“He told me I was better than what I was doing, and I kept thinking, ‘This isn’t me, this isn’t me,’” Armitage, now 34, recalls.
“I was in a bad spot and I knew it. So I decided to make a run for it. And as I looked down the hallway, it just kept getting longer and longer. But I did it – I started sprinting and I remember flying through the air, kicking the door open and running out into the pouring rain, jumping in the car and peeling out of there.
“I started going to night school to earn my high school diploma but I was also on the run from criminals and I wasn’t even 22 yet,” Armitage says.
Fortunately, he met a golf coach through a friend and, before he knew it, he was being flown to the U.S. for his skills with the clubs.
He remembers how surreal it was to find himself on a plane with 15- and 16-year-old golfers who were hoping to go to Harvard.
“It was a whirlwind – it all happened very quickly,” Armitage says. “But I wanted to go to the States to get away from [the criminal element] up here.”
Armitage, who was raised in North Delta, was granted a golf scholarship to William Penn University in Iowa, where he earned his bachelor in business management with a minor in economics.
He returned to Canada and became a volunteer firefighter in Surrey, then returned to school again, this time enrolling at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, which he had to attend in order to become a full-time firefighter.
After successfully earning a position with the Vancouver Fire Department, he wrote a book about his journey, entitled The Comeback, now available for purchase at camarmitage.com and through Amazon and Indigo, as well as on loan from the Vancouver Public Library.
Armitage, who now lives in Vancouver, wanted to give back to the community so he started public speaking about his experiences.
“I’m trying to target a specific age group – 13- to 18-year-olds – because I wish I had been told things at that age that might have prevented me from choosing the path I did at that time,” he says.
He’s currently working towards founding a youth conference – The Next Level – specifically targeting that age group, where he plans to bring in other speakers and guests to help motivate a new generation against addiction.
“Instead of only reaching a limited number of kids at a time, the conference will allow us to reach so many more at the same time,” Armitage says.
“The message is that it doesn’t matter where you currently are in your life compared to where you could be. You are not stuck in situations where you don’t feel joy or don’t feel you have a reason to wake up in the morning.
“Where you currently are does not define where you could go.”