When I was six years old, my family moved from Saudi Arabia back to Canada. Coming from the desert, I had never experienced winter before, let alone this otherworldly-like game called hockey. I was immediately hooked.
I had great dreams of one day joining the NHL myself, dreams that were quickly dashed after my first attempts at learning to skate resulted in such highlights as me crashing into walls while trying to stop and throwing up after drinking too much hot chocolate. Soon my passion focused on collecting hockey cards and watching the game on TV. It was my personal goal to collect every card or watch every game that even mentioned Wayne Gretzky.
When I was 10 years old, I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. To say that my early days of treatment were difficult would be a gross understatement. In truth I was defeated and had given up hope. Then one day, out of the blue, I received a call to my hospital room.
“Is this Jamie Irvine?” said the male voice on the other end of the phone.
“Yes,” I said.
“This is Wayne Gretzky.”
And so the conversation began, lasting between 5-10 minutes, but honestly everything is a blur after he said his name. I was in pure euphoria.
A few weeks passed and I received a care package in the mail from Wayne himself. It was full of signed pictures and various other goodies. All of which I still treasure to this day.
Pretty cool story, right? Well it doesn’t end there. A few years later, my family had moved to Newmarket, Ontario, and I had just finished an experimental treatment and was given the all clear. I attended Camp Oochigeas that summer and met a man named Gordon (Gordo) MacKay. He happened to share my passion for all things Gretzky and after I told him my story, he revealed that he had helped design Wayne Gretzky’s restaurant in Toronto. He invited my family to a free meal at the restaurant and I was shown the “secret” storage room full of Gretzky memorabilia. Gordo let me try on some of the Gretzky jerseys and gloves while my brother got to try on some of Michael Jordan’s game worn shoes. Fun fact: Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan would occasionally exchange skates and shoes.
For me, Gretzky’s title “The Great One” goes beyond his hockey record. He was willing to reach out to a sick child who was feeling defeated and offer the support only a hero like him could provide. And for that, I am forever grateful.
To this day, Wayne Gretzky remains my favourite player of all time and my passion for hockey has not waned. Of course, these days I cheer for our home team.