Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 15, 2003
Hocky spawns courageous hero
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
Christopher Closeup, our weekly television series, recently enjoyed a visit from hockey great Pat LaFontaine. Pat has been named by one sports writer as "the best American-born hockey player ever." He earned that kind of praise by attaining a career total of 468 goals and 1,013 points.
He played professionally for the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders and Rangers. Those statistics attest to his skill as a player. But consider that he was also awarded the Masterton Trophy for perseverance and dedication, and his teammates thought enough of his character and leadership to select him as captain several times.
But LaFontaine's career came to an early end. In 1997, years before anyone expected it, Pat retired. He sustained too many concussions and other injuries. Doctors warned that the cumulative impact put his life in jeopardy. Blessed with a wife and children, LaFontaine was encouraged to get going while he still could.
But this early retirement was not easy. Pat's whole life had been hockey. His past concussions gave him severe headaches and he experienced an agonizing depression. He lost his will to get up each day, finding even getting dressed was a mammoth chore.
His wife, Marybeth, recalls those dark days: "He was very emotional. I would walk into a room, and he would be crying. He cried a lot. Or he would be holding his head from the migraine headaches. They were terrible. He wouldn't leave the house for a week. He wouldn't change his clothes, wouldn't shower. It was all classic signs of depression. I thought he was having a nervous breakdown." Things looked bleak for the former sports hero.
Happily, he found a way out. Pat was encouraged to write a book. He decided to focus on those he'd met who demonstrated extraordinary courage. As a popular athlete, Pat LaFontaine had often visited sick children in hospitals.
Although the visit was a thrill for the kids, he came to understand that in giving his time to children facing life-threatening disease, he actually helped himself - and found a new perspective on life. He used the book proceeds to found the Companions in Courage (CiC) Foundation for children.
Pat wanted young people to recognize their bravery in fighting illness and to realize that they were not alone. Hospitals, he rightly reasoned, are a pretty lonely and scary place for children. But wouldn't that pain be alleviated, just a bit, by being able to enter into another world that the latest computer technology could bring them?
So, working with the folks at Microsoft, Pat established CiC rooms which provide interactive, high-tech recreation, education and communication in hospitals serving children.
As LaFontaine sees it: "It takes them away from all the medical questioning and prodding and gives them a chance to play and make new friends in a place that belongs only to them." He also sees to it personal visits or online interactions with NHL players and other athletes are a regular part of the CiC experience.
Pat LaFontaine knows that life will always include disappointment. We can either allow it to crush and paralyze us or not. He chose to get up and involve himself in the human race, helping kids who really need it.
Hockey may have lost a giant, but children in need have a new champion. Pat LaFontaine is an embodiment of The Christophers' message, "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." (For information about the Companions in Courage Foundation go to companionsincourage.org.)
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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