Admirals Trade Skates for Hammers to Help Child with Leukemia
by Rachael Langdon
To Megan Schulte, a blue line is something you draw with a crayon. The two-year old leukemia patient doesn’t know the difference between a power play and a penalty kill, and she didn’t quite understand why there were 16 hockey players in her backyard Sunday morning. But when she looked at the brand new playground they had built, she immediately knew it was hers.
On Sunday November 7, 16 members of the Norfolk Admirals traveled to Newport News to participate in the RocSolid Foundation’s “Play It Forward” program, which constructs playgrounds in the backyards of child cancer patients. The opportunity to play outside provides much-needed normalcy to young lives filled with needles and doctors visits, but chemotherapy and its debilitating side effects make trips to the park difficult. By providing a safe and convenient place to play, the “Play It Forward” initiative allows patients to take a step back from their disease and to enjoy just being kids.
A chance meeting introduced Admirals defensemen Ty Wishart to RocSolid founder Eric Newman. When Wishart heard about the organization and its mission, he immediately knew it was something he wanted to be a part of. Within 24 hours of hearing about RocSolid, Wishart contacted Admirals Community Relations Director Millie Lomax about scheduling a Play It Forward build, and recruited his teammates to help. “It’s a great cause, so obviously we were happy to help out. We’re very lucky to get to do what we do for a living, so we like to do anything we can to give back,” said Wishart. “It was a great way to spend our day off,” he added.
The Admirals arrived at the Schulte home in Newport News at 9 AM Sunday morning. The players, along with volunteers from RocSolid, quickly got to work assembling Megan’s pre-fabricated playground. Though the Admirals had little construction experience, the playground rapidly came together; RocSolid founder Eric Newman reported that the combined efforts of 6 feet 8 inch Admirals Vladimir Mihalik and Mitch Fritz rendered a ladder unnecessary for the first time in the Play It Forward program’s history.
After completing the playground, the team turned their attention to the Schulte’s yard, digging a new garden and painting the fences. “We got a lot done in a short day, so its amazing to think what we could do if we had more time,” said Admirals left wing Mitch Fritz. Manual labor presented a welcome change of pace for the Admirals. “We had a lot of fun doing the actual build. It was great to get away from hockey, but at the same time we got to bond as a team,” said Pierre-Cedric Labrie.
The highlight of the day, however, came when Megan arrived to see her playground. The two-year old quickly found the new slide, her already-beaming smile growing bigger with each trip into her father’s arms. Megan’s obvious joy affected all present. “Usually you only get to see this kind of stuff on TV. To be there in person and actually see the look on Megan’s face was even better,” said Labrie. Megan received the playground, but it was the Admirals who felt lucky. “It was an honor to be a part of something that will have such a positive impact on a child’s life,” said Wishart.
A cookout with the Schulte family and their friends and neighbors capped off the Admirals’ afternoon. Before leaving, each player left a short note and signed their name on Megan’s new playground. When she is old enough, Megan’s parents will read her the messages and explain who they are from. By that time, those names may no longer be on the Admirals roster. Some may have left hockey entirely, and some may be inscribed on the Stanley Cup. All, however, will remain on Megan’s playground, and a small but significant part of her fight against cancer.