“During my cancer treatments, I never thought about what would happen with hockey. It was more important just to survive and beat the disease. Since then, I’m allowing myself to enjoy life and hockey more, even if the game has lost a ton of its meaning and importance in my life.“ - Saku Koivu, March 12th 2012
This isn’t going to be a post about the lack of adequate coverage surrounding Saku Koivu’s 1000th game; it’s just not worth it. Let’s just say players have been celebrated for achieving much less, facing lesser odds.
This is going to be a post celebrating Saku Koivu’s 1000th NHL game, played Monday. Koivu, now a member of the Anaheim Ducks has had a relatively significant career. He captained the legendary Montreal Canadians, the first European to do so, and in many respects was considering one of the classiest players to play for the organization.
What makes the 1000 game milestone a special one for Koivu is that 10 years ago, he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Less scientifically put, he had cancer. The mans life was a stake, and speaking as a person who was diagnosed with exact same illness 4 years later, I can tell you that was he’s done, even to have played one game again let alone hit the 1000 game milestone, is nothing short of spectacular and inspirational.
We often look at our sports heroes as people who ultimately achieve pinnacles in their sports. Championships, MVP’s, scoring titles, accolades upon accolades. We often miss those with stories then force us to look at our lives a bit differently.
The reality is that we, more than likely, will not become professional athletes. I hope I’m not the first one to break that to you. Instead, we, at some point or not in our life, will face adversity, whether it be as big as cancer or not is hopefully yet to be determined. By recognizing Koivu for his return to the period should give us a hope that no matter our career, and how high we climb within it, there’s always possibility to bounce back from the lows. The lowest of lows, in fact. Koivu proved that on April 9th 2002, 80 games into the regular season, when he stepped on the ice for the Canadians after 8 months of chemotherapy treatments. Had that been his final game, it in itself would’ve generated the same motivational impact in my life.
When obstacles like illness occur in a life, it’s truly difficult to picture a point down the road where you’re going to be doing what you love, simply because emotional thoughts don’t work that way. But after the dust settles, we should, as Koivu proves, continue to aspire to be the same people or better people than we were prior to whatever it is we face. It would’ve been more than acceptable for Koivu to pack up the skates and never know if he’d be able to play the game again. I mean the grueling nature of the trauma he faced could have lead to that, and again, it would’ve been fine. But he didn’t.
And you shouldn’t. The reality of life is that obstacles arise. If we stopped and stepped back and each and everyone, there would be a grand total of ZERO successful people in the world. Everyone, at one point or another, faces a challenge or a hundred. It’s just the way life works. Sure, we may not physically be able to do what Koivu’s done, but have our own lives. Yes, sometimes the nature of the obstacles causes permanent damages, as it did with me. My hips will soon be replaced, and I’ve had 6 surgeries in 5 years on major joints. But it hasn’t stopped me from completing one degree, with chemotherapy following me to University, or now attending broadcasting school. Life when challenges arise, as Koivu’s proven, is about changing the path to your goals, not making your goals your past.
Koivu’s illness was magnified because he played in one of the biggest hockey markets in the world, Montreal, and faced what many deem a life-threatening illness.
So we must celebrate 1000 games played, as arbitrary as the number might be. Not because it’s a big number, but because Koivu’s proven to all of us that if you want something bad enough, no matter the setbacks, you’ll find a way to get yourself there in some capacity.
So congratulations Saku Koivu. Not on 1000 games.
On life, and proving that it’s ok to have one after something like this.