Four-year-old Nate Chapin dazzled a dressing room of champion hockey players last week – all who wanted a chance to meet the little boy with cystic fibrosis and let him know that he was the inspiration to do their best on the ice.
“Guys, this is Nash,” coach Chris Pierson told the excited novice team, named Nash’s Nighthawks, as the child stood at the door. “He’s the guy we were playing for.”
Then Pierson bent down to talk to Nash himself: “They’re all really excited to meet you.”
Nash was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was an infant. CF is a life-shortening condition that causes the body to produce thick mucus and clog passages in many of the body’s organs and in the lungs. According to Cystic Fibrosis Canada, approximately 4,000 people across the country currently live with the inherited disorder, for which there is no cure.
Nash’s Nighthawks was one of four teams to play in last weekend’s inaugural CF Strong Cup, a three-day 3-on-3 charity hockey tournament at Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre organized by Cochrane mom Jenna Dillon.
Dillon named the squads after children with CF, including Nash’s Nighthawks, Faith’s Firecrackers, Teagan’s Tornadoes and the Georgia Peaches – to honour her own affected daughter, Georgia.
“Each team was playing for a kid,” Dillon said.
Dillon met Nash’s mother Chantal Chapin on a Facebook support group shortly after Georgia’s diagnosis about 10 months ago, and the two have become friends.
Although the mamas both live in Cochrane, they maintain a relationship mainly through social media because it can be dangerous for their children to be near each other. Bacteria and viruses cause serious problems for those with the disease, so CF Canada recommends kids with CF keep a distance of at least six feet apart.
“Having kids with CF, they aren’t allowed to interact. It has been really great,” Chapin said of the online network of CF families.
Those same families are often at the forefront of critical fundraising efforts for the disease, which relies heavily on research to try to improve both the length and quality of life for those who have it.
For her part, Dillon came up with the idea of a holiday charity hockey tournament – and her first annual CF Strong Cup raised an impressive $13,470 for Cystic Fibrosis Canada.
Dillon said generous sponsors like Ducks on the Roof, Spartan Hockey Development and Astricreative – along with referees that volunteered their time – helped make the event a success.
“If it wasn’t for them, this tournament wouldn’t have happened,” she said.
Back in the dressing room, Nash’s Nighthawks crowded around their VIP just moments after hoisting the trophy over their heads to celebrate their 9-4 win over the Firecrackers.
The troupe of seven and eight-year-olds presented Nash with a jersey signed by the whole team and asked if he wanted to hold the CF Strong Cup they had just won in his honour.
Coach Chris Pierson said the moment was just as special – if not more – than the victory on the ice.
“They enjoyed every minute of it,” he said. “Right from the get go, they were like, ‘Who is Nash?’ It brings it back down to earth to see that’s what the game is all about.”
Though Nash sat on his mom’s lap, wide-eyed and quiet amid the commotion, Chapin said “he’ll probably talk about it forever.”
“The support is unreal,” she said, herself touched by all the attention. “It feels so good to be supported.”