“For someone like me he was, in many ways, a dream,” Gilhooly says. “Here was someone who understood athletics and would understand the academic in me. He made me feel welcome when I wasn’t in very many groups.”
He now knows he was being “groomed” by a brilliant seducer, a man who could hold up the promise of success in exchange for sex, a successful coach who knew where a youngster was most vulnerable. “He didn’t touch me for months,” Gilhooly says. But once it began it was impossible for the youngster to stop, even though, physically, he towered over James.
“One punch and it would have been all over,” he says. “And believe me, that’s one of the things I’ve carried with me for 30-odd years.
“It’s difficult enough for me to try and understand how he gained control over me in the first place. The best way for me to describe it is that I believed that he had the ability to say yes or no to anything and everything that I held near and dear to my heart. And that my life would be over if he went ahead and did any of the things that he threatened me with and then everything I had would just ... evaporate.”
What happened was that once James gained control through lavish praise and promise, he gained even greater control through threat. When Gilhooly showed signs of rebellion, James told him if he told anyone, or if he left, James would destroy him.
“‘Not only will you not go to Princeton,’” Gilhooly says James would tell him, “‘but you will be labelled as this and people are going to think that of you and no one is going to believe you.’ It’s easier at age 48 to think through some of these things. When you’re 14, 15, 16, and you’re just coming of age in the first place, you don’t know who you are or what you are. Here you’ve got this guy telling you what you are, and your body is responding, so he must be right. And yet it doesn’t feel right inside. Who am I? What am I?”
He desperately wanted out. He was confused but had no one to turn to. No girlfriend, though he craved one. A father he felt he could not talk to. From age 15 until he graduated from high school he was dominated by James. The Princeton scholarship came through – set up by Canadian graduates of the school – and Gilhooly only learned later that he had won it on his own, that James, in fact, had no contact at the New Jersey university.
He left for Princeton and, finally, he believed “It was over.” Graham James never even called.
Running and hiding
But it was far from over. Confused and unsure of himself, Gilhooly says he “self-sabotaged” at Princeton, unable to embrace success of any sort. If he aced one exam, he would all but fail the next. He made the hockey team but quit before he could earn his letter.
“I was running and hiding from a great many things,” he says. He dated for the first time but it did not go well. He binged on cheeseburgers and forced himself to vomit after each binging session. Later, when he began putting on weight, he considered himself “a failed bulimic.”
He studied law at the University of Toronto, where he also played varsity hockey for coach Paul Titanic. When Gilhooly broke one of his goalie skates at training camp Titanic, a former NHLer, contacted Ken Dryden, the Montreal Canadiens great, who offered up his huge goalie skates for Gilhooly to use while he waited for new ones from the factory.
“I felt like I was trying on Cinderella’s slipper,” Gilhooly recalls. “I wanted so badly for my feet to fit. I mean Ken Dryden’s skates! I curled my toes to wedge my foot into one but not even close.”
There would be no fairy tale. He played but did not star. “I had the biggest five-hole in the history of the game,” he laughs. “I mean, just consider the geometry of it.”