EVERETT — Chris Rabideau’s positive nature and passionate drive are evident in all aspects of his life.
The Cascade High School junior carries a 3.8 grade-point average. He is a two-way starting lineman on the Bruins football team, where he’s one of the program’s undisputed leaders. And he recently discovered a love for public speaking, which provides him an avenue to use his life journey to inspire others.
Rabideau, 16, is thriving now. But it certainly wasn’t always that way.
Every time he drives past the Casino Road apartments in south Everett where he once lived, Rabideau is reminded of his rough childhood.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It brings back so many memories of (my past). It’s insane to think about where I could be.”
Rabideau never knew his biological father — who left about a year after he was born — and grew up in an environment marred by drug use and alcoholism.
By the time he was 6 years old, Rabideau said, he frequently was left to fend for himself.
“It was a constant battle of survival,” he said. “I had to feed myself — if we even had any food. I had to clothe myself. I had to get myself to school on time. It was just, ‘How will I get through the next day?’”
Furthermore, it was a toxic environment that repeatedly was marked by violence.
“The cops would come often, (but) nothing would really be solved,” Rabideau said. “It would constantly happen, sometimes twice a week.”
After several years of monitoring the situation, Child Protective Services stepped in on Rabideau’s 10th birthday. He was removed from where he was living and moved in with his aunt and uncle, Leslie and Jeremy Rabideau.
At first, Chris said, he felt conflicted about leaving.
“I was in that environment for years,” he said. “You grow close to it. Even though it’s bad for you, you’re going to miss it.”
Chris gradually grew to embrace the change. About two years after moving in, he was officially adopted by Jeremy and Leslie.
“I definitely would not be the person I am without them in my life,” Chris said. “I owe them my world.”
Despite the care and stability provided by Jeremy and Leslie, Chris still had lingering scars from his prior upbringing. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and eating disorders.
“Over six years of trauma, he had a lot of demons he was fighting,” Leslie said.
“It was counselor after counselor, mentor after mentor,” Chris added. “And nothing really worked.”
That is, until Chris met Clint Diehm. When Chris was 12, the two were matched through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County.
“I remember meeting Clint,” Chris said. “We got to talking and, man, I just felt the greatest sense. He gave me a passion. He showed me confidence — how to be confident and what confidence can do for your life. Every day that I continue to know him, my confidence just continues to go through the roof.”
“He needed Clint,” Leslie added. “Just as much as he needed us, he needed a positive mentor (like) Clint. Clint has become like family. He’ll be in his life forever.”
Clint said Chris’ body language exemplifies just how much he’s progressed since they first met.
“He was worn out,” Clint said. “He was fatigued at only 12 years old by what had been thrown at him.
“(But with) the love and support of his adopted parents, he has flourished. When you see him today, he carries himself with confidence and looks for opportunities to challenge himself. He has changed so much.”
With a strong support system, Chris began to excel. Yet it wasn’t easy.
When he moved in with Jeremy and Leslie prior to fifth grade, testing determined Chris was more than a grade behind in school.
“I would spend five hours doing fifth-grade homework,” he said. “It was constantly a lot of tears (and) a lot of late nights. It was mentally brutal.”
But through hard work and the help of his teachers and soon-to-be adopted parents, Chris caught up by sixth grade. And by eighth grade, he was taking advanced math.
“He’s just continuing to take on challenges and tackle them,” Leslie said. “It’s just amazing to see where he was and how far he’s come.”
Another key moment in Chris’ development came during the summer prior to fifth grade. He was in the car with Leslie when she asked him whether he liked any sports.
“I didn’t, but I just made some stuff up,” Chris said. “I said I liked football.”
Then, as fate would have it, they drove past a Kamiak youth football sign.
“Divine intervention,” Leslie said. “Everything happens for a reason. … Football, in a sense, saved his life.”
Chris joined the Kamiak youth football program that fall and struggled through his first season. But he grew to develop a love for the game and has played the sport ever since, all while learning valuable life lessons.
Chris said youth football coach Tony Indelicato was one of many coaches over the years who made a lasting impact.
“(He) basically took me under his wing and taught me a whole bunch of life lessons that involve persistency, like you can’t quit in order to be successful,” Chris said. “And that’s what I was doing a lot. I was ready to give up. I was ready to be done.
“The game of football has taught me so much in my life, and it’s continuing,” he added. “It helped me gain mental toughness, discipline and how to face and overcome adversity. … Honestly, without football, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
After moving with his adopted family from Mukilteo to Everett, Chris joined the Cascade football program in ninth grade. He was the fifth- or sixth-best lineman on the freshman team that season, former Bruins coach Shane Keck said.
But with a relentless drive, Chris climbed up the depth chart.
He started a few varsity games on the offensive line as a sophomore. He was a two-way starter at offensive tackle and defensive end this past season. This coming fall, Keck said, Chris likely will be Cascade’s top returning lineman.
“He’s got a blue-collar work ethic,” said Keck, who coached the Bruins for the past three seasons. “One of the best workers I’ve been around in 15 years. … Whether it’s in the weight room or on the practice field or on game day, man, he is jacked up and ready to go.
“He’s an inspiration to me, personally, just in terms of (how) he brings it every day. It challenges us as coaches to bring our best and always be upbeat.”
Chris has aspirations of playing college football and said he’s interested in coaching football in the future.
“Whatever level he achieves,” Keck said, “it’s going to be because of his work ethic and motivation.
“(And) he’s going to shine just because of his character and personality,” Keck added. “You can tell his genuineness and that he truly cares about other people.”
Sharing his story
One of the first times Chris publicly shared his life story was last June at Central Washington University football camp, where he spoke in front of his Cascade teammates and coaches one night during a team-bonding event.
“At the end of his speech, there was probably not a dry eye in the crowd,” Keck said. “It was a really inspiring evening for everybody.
“We were walking back to the dorms (afterward) and I said, ‘Man, I think you may have changed some guys’ lives in there.’”
It was an eye-opening experience for Chris.
“I saw the impact it had,” he said. “That’s when it clicked. If I can do that with 75 football players and 15-plus adults, why am I not (taking) this opportunity to do it (elsewhere)?”
In February, Chris shared his story at the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Snohomish County annual campaign kickoff event. In March, he spoke at the YMCA of Snohomish County’s annual campaign victory celebration.
Despite his limited experience, Chris is a polished public speaker who possesses a natural ability to inspire others.
“He’s a really, really good public speaker,” Clint said. “And (he) likes it for the right reasons.
“He’s a really remarkable kid,” he added. “There’s no faking in him. He’s the real deal. … He’s one of those rare people that could probably do almost anything he sets his mind to.”
Chris currently is looking for more opportunities to share his story.
“Kids are still in (tough) situations, but I want to use my story as hope to get them out of that,” he said. “Circumstance does not determine success and what you do. That’s only from within.
“I want to use my story as an outlook on life,” he added, “because I’ve learned a lot that I want to pass on.”
Indeed, Chris has a perspective on life that’s well beyond his years. Fueled by his past, he lives every day with a seemingly endless supply of infectious energy and purpose.
“Now, instead of waking up (in) uncertainty and hopelessness, I love every morning,” Chris said. “I am not kidding you, I could be dead right now. I could’ve lost that battle. But I was given an opportunity.
“Every day I wake up, it’s an opportunity to be great. It’s an opportunity to make the people who’ve helped me get to where I am proud. And it’s an opportunity to continue to grow and develop so I can use my story for others.
“Every day is a gift. And every day is a new opportunity.”