Bad things happen to good people each and every day. But there’s something particularly painful about a cruel hand dealt to a person noted for their strength and toughness. Such was the case late Thursday night when legendary Canucks enforcer Gino Odjick revealed he’s been diagnosed with a rare and terminal heart condition that is expected to bring a tragic end to his life in the coming weeks and months.
It’s not the first time Odjick has had to deal with terrible news. Over the years, he’s battled alcoholism and mental illness he believes is linked to the concussions he suffered as one of the NHL’s most feared combatants. But he never could’ve been prepared to learn in April he was suffering from cardiac amyloidosis, an affliction that creates protein deposits in the heart. There is no cure for the disease and Odjick was forced to come to terms with his own mortality at a far younger age than anyone should have to.
“You don’t think when you’re 43 years old they’re going to tell you you’ve got one year to live,” he told the Vancouver Province. “(T)here comes a point when I have to make plans to enjoy the last year and that’s where we’re at right now.”
While there’s not going to be a happy ending to Odjick’s most important fight, you hope his life shows hockey fans their heroes are as vulnerable to devastating twists of fate as any of us. You also hope the people of Vancouver rise up with millions of words of comfort and shows of support for an athlete who gave his all in their name and who has worked tirelessly to improve the lives of his fellow First Nations people.
Odjick has penned a letter to the hockey world explaining his condition and his appreciation for the good fortune he’s enjoyed. You ought to read it and take a moment to admire his contributions on and off the ice. He’s been protector and protected, teacher and student, father, son, brother and friend. He’s been glorified and vilified. And it’s to his credit that, through it all, he’s facing his final days displaying the bravery and kind soul he was famous for as a player.
He’s also someone I’ve come to know a little bit after his playing career ended in 2002. He was endlessly kind to me, but more importantly, he was enthusiastic and relentless about making a difference in the world. It was easy to see why teammates and coaches think so highly of him. He made his living through that 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame, his big, beefy fists and his steely determination, but he made his mark through his brilliant spirit and tender core.
He loved as ferociously as he fought, and that’s as much as you can ask of any human being.
We don’t have the power to reverse the terribly sad course Odjick now is on. But we can and will ensure his legacy continues to be celebrated after we’re no longer fortunate to have him around.