Day 38 OT
Well, I only need three words to sum up the experience we had on Saturday night:
Ho. Ly. Cow!
Wow, what an evening we had! And of course, as you all know, I’m not able to answer even a “yes or no” question in only three words, so let me go ahead and give you all the details!
We got an invitation from the Georgia chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society about two weeks ago to attend an Atlanta Thrashers Hockey Game as part of their All-Star Kids Initiative, a program designed to support the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer charitable program. I won’t go into great detail, but you can find more information on this wonderful program at Hockey's All-Star Kids.
Now, I am the first to admit that we’ve gotten to do some pretty neat things due to Kendrie’s leukemia. We’ve attended Camp Sunshine Family Camp Weekends, the Lighthouse Family Retreat, Give Kids the World Village, Light the Night, attended a Braves game with CureSearch, attended the CURE Family Picnic, and various other activities as well. I’ve said it before …. I’d much rather have sat at home watching Lizzie McGuire re-runs, with three healthy kids, but it didn’t work out that way. So I feel very blessed that so many organizations work so hard to offer these programs, and very fortunate that our family has been able to take part.
So, ok. Back to the hockey game. Not only did the LLS invite our family to attend the game, but Terri with LLS wanted to know if Kendrie would be interested in helping throw down the puck before the game! Wow, are you kidding?? Seriously??? Would she be interested??? ------- Um, what exactly does that mean? See, what I know about basketball could fit in a thimble, and I know even less about hockey.
Plus, my mind immediately leapt to last summer’s grand opening of Tooner Park at Turner Field before the Braves game, where Kendrie was supposed to stand on stage while the ceremonial ribbon was being cut. She didn’t have to touch the scissors, or do anything more than stand there with a group of about fifteen other kids, and she wimped out. Total chicken. And now we’re asking her to step out on the ice before the Thrashers game, in front of 15,000 or so screaming hockey fans, and actually **DO** something?????
So I told Terri that while I appreciated the invitation, I had a more-than-slight concern that she might back out at the last second and I didn’t want to take any chances on messing up the big event …. I thought it might be safer to find another kid. But Kendrie insisted she wanted to do it, and Terri was a good sport about it, so with some hesitation, we accepted.
Fast forward to last night’s game.
First, we received premium parking passes and were able to get into the stadium half an hour before the general public to take advantage of all the cool, free, kid-friendly things that were happening. I felt quite smug walking past all the fans standing outside in the rain, as we munched on free popcorn and ice cream.
We were supposed to meet at our seats at 6:15, but weren’t quite sure where they were, so we asked for directions. I knew there would be a group of us sitting together, so I was sort of hoping for one of those boxes that companies sometimes reserve. But instead of going down near the ice, we were taken up, up, up; rode in an elevator that had an official button-pusher-person, and then were told to check in for our suite so it could be unlocked for us …. Blaine and I just sort of looked at each other. Suite? Unlocked?? Were we in the right place?
Then, they showed us to the suite and I knew for sure that they had us confused with Donald Trump!
Kellen’s first comment was, “Hey, this is nicer than any of the hotels we’ve ever stayed at!” Boasting a fridge, ice maker, wet bar, with food and beverage bar already set up, you’re right, son! Sofas, tables, tv screens, and seats that jutted out over the rest of the arena …. Let’s just say that our three-dollar general-seating tickets to the ball games back home won’t ever be the same!
Apparently we were in the private suite of one of the Atlanta players, Ilya Kovalchuk. Now, I have no idea who that is, but maybe this picture of him as a bobble head that they were passing out last night will help:
I did a little online research to find out more about him …. All I know now is that he was born in Russia (oh yeah, with a name like *Kovalchuk* I thought he must be from Iowa!) and that he was born in 1983. Blaine and I were extremely depressed to realize he hadn’t even been born when we graduated from high school, yet probably made more money last year alone than we’ll ever make in our lives. Oh, well. Whatever.
I was told that he owns (rents?) the suite for the entire season and sometimes when he’s not using it personally, he’ll give the seats away to organizations, like he did for the LLS last night. So while I still know nothing about him, I think that is a wonderful thing to do.
We sat around for about half an hour, the kids gluttonously-fascinated by the hot dogs, sandwiches, chips, chicken tenders, cookies and soda that was all just there for the taking. (Honestly, it was a little embarrassing. You’d think I never fed them at home.) The other cancer-kid who was going to help drop the puck, a cute 6-yr old lymphoma-survivor named Flynn, showed up and soon it was time to head downstairs.
We had been talking this event up for the past two weeks with Kendrie, making sure she understood what was going on and that she was still excited (and more importantly, WILLING!) to do it. She purported great enthusiasm in the days beforehand, and again in the suite, but began wilting on the way down to the ice. She wanted to hold my hand, then she wanted me to carry her, then she was burying her face in my leg and with only a few minutes to go, it was all-out tears and protestations that she was NEVER going out on the ice!!! “It’s too scary!” “There are too many people!” “What if the players accidentally smack me with their sticks when I’m out there?”
I, of course, ran the good-mothering gamut of responses, from “It’s ok, honey, mommy will be right behind you” to “You’ve been so brave to fight cancer, I just know you are brave enough to do this, also” to “Kendrie, sweetie, it’s not going to be that bad” to “Get your butt out on that ice right now, young lady, you said you would do it and you’re going to!”
Thankfully, the representatives from LLS and the Thrashers were extremely patient and encouraging, and she actually sucked it up and agreed to go out there, but only if I could stand right beside her. So we waited for a few minutes in the penalty box while the lights were flashing all around, and the music was blaring, and the players took to the ice while the crowd roared all around us. I was worried all these things would start to overwhelm her, but exactly the opposite happened. Flynn was standing there, calm as a cucumber, and I guess Kendrie decided this was pretty stinking cool after all! And hey, if HE could do it, surely she could, too! She leaned over when it was time, grabbed hold of her side of the puck, and marched right out there without a backward glance at me! (Which, of course, left me standing there looking pretty stupid, but I guess it was worth it.)
Being introduced to the sold-out crowd at Philips Arena, and meeting the players. I asked her if they said hello to her, and she said, “No, they said ‘Pleased to meet you’ “ I don’t know why that struck me as funny, but it did.
Tossing down the puck for the team representatives to swat at. After, she and Flynn were both given actual NHL pucks as keepsakes, which was extremely awesome in her book. PS. I have to give Blaine kudos for getting these pictures. He and Brayden and Kellen were still up in the suite, and he grabbed my camera with my mamba-jamba telephoto lens, and did a pretty good job, if I say so myself!
Then, when we were walking back through the “backstage” area to head back to our seats, there was a lady who was kind enough to “recognize” Kendrie and tell her what a great job she had done and ask her for her autograph. I’m sure I’ll never see her again, but if I did, I would tell her thank you for doing such a nice, un-necessary thing. You should have seen how proud Kendrie was to put her John Hancock on that lady’s ticket.
Funny thing, though. Later in the game there was a private autograph session for the All-Star Kids with Bobby Holik, an Atlanta player on injured-reserve. When we told Kendrie it was time for the autograph session, she assumed *he* must want *her* autograph and took her pen with her. She asked me, “Mom, why are all these kids here? Do they ALL want mine and Flynn’s autographs?” I had to explain to her that it was actually the other way around, and she was supposed to be happy to be on the receiving end!
Shortly after the Thrashers Mascot made a private appearance in our suite, thrilling all the kids (and a few adults as well!) it was time for us to go.
We had eaten all the free food, drunk all the free sodas, gathered our bobble heads, pucks, jerseys, autographed items, blow-up hockey sticks and Thrashers bracelets that we could carry. We staggered under the weight back to the van, with smiles on our faces the whole way.
Considering I don’t even understand hockey, and the Thrashers got beat, it was still a remarkable evening. From the amazing hospitality we were shown, to the pride I felt when Kendrie conquered her nerves and stepped out on that ice, it was a night to remember.
Many. Many thanks to Terri with LLS, the Atlanta Thrashers, and Ilya Kovalchuk for their graciousness. I’m sure every All-Star Kid there had just as wonderful of a time as we did.