Oliver Smith’s Short Shift

Posted on July 11, 2019 under Storytelling with 2 comments

Oliver getting a few lessons in table hockey from great-grandfather, George

“The time you won your town the race,

We chaired you through the market place,

Man and boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder- high.


Today, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-high we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.


To an Athlete Dying Young. A.E. Housman

Young people are supposed to outlive their parents, their grandparents, and their great -grandparents. Oliver Smith’s life was grounded just at the stage of life when it was due to take flight. He fought the valiant fight with Ewings Sarcoma but sadly succumbed to this deadly childhood cancer the day after his twelfth birthday.

Terry Fox suffered from a similar cancer called osteosarcoma and he eventually died in 1981 while crossing Canada. He was raising awareness and money for cancer research. Terry Fox died young and has never been forgotten. Oliver died one day before the anniversary of Terry Fox’s death. Ollie Bots, the fundraising project that Oliver and his family started, will endure. Money raised from Ollie Bots goes towards research for Ewings Sarcoma and also supports local families affected by paediatric cancer.

It comes as little surprise that Oliver was athletic and that his passion was hockey. It was part of his DNA. His great- grandfather, George, spent much of his life in cold hockey rinks following the exploits of Oliver’s grandfather, Alex, and his brothers. Oliver’s dad, Bryan, an avid hockey player himself, has taken up the torch and spends countless hours coaching and working on skating skills with local hockey players.

Oliver faced this dreaded disease is a quiet, determined way. He didn’t complain about his lot in life even when pain short circuited his budding hockey career.

The first few chapters of Oliver’s life have been written. He played hockey until he couldn’t and then lived it vicariously through his hockey team and his beloved St.F.X. X-Men hockey squad. He got to meet members of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who maintained contact with the family throughout Oliver’s final days.

Brad Peddle, the coach of the St.F.X. hockey team, spoke glowingly of Oliver. “It’s hard to put into words what Oliver meant to our group this year. This was a tough season in many ways with more adversity than most years, but Oliver inspired the group to get to another level. His spirit and smile through a much tougher battle he was enduring was both motivating and inspiring. Throughout the playoffs I was serving a 10- game suspension, meaning I could not go near the team before games. He stepped in and did the starting lineup every game, doing a remarkable job in a pressure packed time of year. Not many adults could do that, let alone a 12 –year-old boy. I firmly believe he is the sole reason our team went as far as it did and won a Bronze medal at the National Championship. After a terrible loss in the semi-final, crushing our gold medal goals, Oliver was the only reason our team stayed on track and got right back up to play and win the bronze the next day. Seeing Oliver being the first to go up and get his medal on the ice is something none of us will ever forget.”

How can anything good come from the death of a child? Death is mysterious enough when it involves someone who has led a long, productive life. But trying to rationalize, let alone explain the death of one so young and with so much promise is almost unfathomable. There are no words that will comfort his grieving family and the community that loved him.

Hockey is a game played in short shifts. This is when a player is competing at maximum capacity. Oliver didn’t get to play the whole game but his short shift was one played with passion. He lived the best kind of life he could in the time he was given.

Oliver was nurtured and cared for by generations of competent and caring women. Many of them were nurses, including his mother, Shauna. Love was the best medicine they dispensed to Oliver throughout his life, especially in the third period. His sisters, Megan and Emma ,were rocks. They honoured their brother the best way they could by continuing to pursue academic and athletic excellence during his illness.

But Oliver’s story is not over. His legacy started to build with Ollie Bots and it appears that this fundraising project will assist many families in the days and years to come.

 Oliver Smith lived a shortened life but one that was impactful. Those relatives who died before him would be justifiably proud of this exceptional young man.

Those left to mourn will continue to honour his life.

There are many chapters remaining in Oliver’s story. They just haven’t been written yet.

“Now you will not swell the route,

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran,

And the name died before the man.”




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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on May 20, 2019 under Storytelling with one comment

Me and one of my favourite traveling companions, Jan Bader from Heidelberg, Germany.

Three days ago, my walk was along one of the more nondescript sections of the Camino. It passed through an Industrial Park where Jan and I sat and had freshly squeezed orange juice. This was the high point.The trail continued alongside a busy highway through small towns that seemed to lack character. It was cold , windy and rained a bit. Not whining…just stating the facts.

I wasn’t the least bit concerned having trained in much worse conditions in Nova Scotia. But something strange happened along the way that is still leaving me shaking my head. Last week, in my hometown in Nova Scotia, Canada, a woman in her early 40’s died suddenly and unexpectedly. I sent condolences to a close family friend of the deceased.

I’m walking in the middle of nowhere with all my data turned off on my phone.I’m trying to be a purist on the Camino! I did have the volume on as I still keep the phone lines open for any emergencies. I was very startled to hear my phone ping. My friend was on the way to the funeral and was replying to my condolences through Messenger. How could this possibly happen? People who know me understand that, at the best of times, technology eludes me. I’m still shaking my head.

I stayed in a very large Alburgue that evening. One of the rooms that held 30 bunk beds was nearly empty, a rarity on the Camino.

The communal dining area was busy with the handful of pilgrims who had also checked in. Everyone was journaling, checking their guide books for the next day’s walk and checking social media.

I need you to use your imagination. At one table, there were six of us, three on either side. Some were drinking beer. Others were drinking fine red wine from Leon at 3 Euros (about $4.50 Canadian). Guido, from Italy was sitting to my right and a woman from Germany was on my left. Three pilgrims faced us on the other side of the table.

The German lady asked if she could borrow a guidebook. I was drinking a cold beer. Guido reached across in front of me, thrusting the book to the grateful pilgrim.However, so enchanted was he of this middle aged woman, that he kept his arm extended after passing her the book. His armpit was literally in my face and his arm was between me and my beer.

The people across from me were watching with grins on their faces. I delicately passed my hand under Guido’s arm and brought it up and over his arm in order to get a mouthful of ale. Guido remained unconscious of my predicament. I started pointing at his armpit to the three people across the table suggesting he had body odour, which he didn’t. This little charade continued for a full five minutes. When their grins turned to laughter, Guido finally realized that he was the subject of everyone’s attention. We all had a great chuckle.

Later at communal dinner, I struck up a conversation with a retired Anglican minister from Northern Ontario and a computer programmer from London, England She looked my age and the other chap was in his 20’s. I asked the minister if she felt safe traveling alone. “I’m on a mission of trust” was her reply. No question that her Camino was a spiritual journey. If she visits every church on the Camino, they might need to send out a search party for her later this Fall.

We had this amazing discussion about organized religion, spirituality, the after life, same sex marriage and so forth.

I am going to be very embarrassed if I show up at home after the Camino having gained weight after a 700K walk and about 1.2 million steps. Walking 25-35k everyday requires a lot of fuel. The eternal quest for pilgrims is food and drink… at all hours of the day. Some days, I am appalled when I think about my consumption which includes sweets and other junk food.

For example, on Saturday, I had already had consumed about 5000 calories before dinner. I went into this Spanish restaurant. There was a fixed price meal which, of course, included wine. The waiter opened a bottle of red and delivered fresh crusty bread. The seafood paella was exquisite followed by meatballs in a “green sauce.” Dessert and coffee… (the wine was limitless- I showed great restraint and showed my Canadian manners).Total bill? 11 Euros or approximately $16. I would be grossly overweight and an alcoholic if I lived in Spain.
Have a great week.
P.S. Jan Bader is a fine young man. I like to think that I have a pretty good sense of humour. He has been me matching insult for insult. His humour and generally good mood will carry him far in life. Unless someone supplants him, he will receive my Camino award for “pilgrim with the best sense of humour”.

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The Longest Day

Posted on March 28, 2019 under Storytelling with 4 comments

Thanks to the yearbook staff (1976) at SAJH for the picture and to Gerard MacDonald for posting this photo a few days ago which resulted in this flashback.

We’ve all had them.

Have you ever had one of those days when you wondered if it would ever end? I’ve witnessed labour and delivery of a child.  Four to be exact. Surely this is one of the greatest tests of endurance and perseverance. Writing final exams would be high on my personal list, especially when we wrote provincial exams in high school where your entire year was riding on the results. Anybody who has traveled from North America to far flung places like Australia or India can attest to utter exhaustion after 40 hours of cars, buses and planes.

While weddings are mostly joyous occasions, it can test the boundaries of patience.  Completing the Boston Marathon is another example of a very long day, especially when you haven’t slept the previous 48 hours wondering if you could do it.

A three hour root canal is right up there too.

Most people of my vintage have had at least one (?) altercation with alcohol and came out on the losing end.

The year was 1976. After a less than stellar performance during my undergraduate years, I went back to university to get a Bachelor of Education. I took the secondary program and made some lifelong friends who toiled with me to learn how to become  English teachers. It was a memorable year. Especially the last day.

When I did my undergraduate degree, I didn’t stick around for graduation so I missed all of the grad week functions. Speaking of long days, is there anything longer and duller than sitting through graduation exercises? So when grad week came along in May of 1976, I took in all of the festivities.

I had done my practice teaching at St.Andrew Junior High. (SAJH) It was a great school and my supervising teacher (KF) was a gem. Prior to graduation, I had secured a commitment for a full time teaching assignment in the Peace River country of Alberta in September. With a newly polished degree tucked under my arm, I decided to put my name on the substitution list in Antigonish to see if I could pick up a few days of paid teaching before heading out west.

I remember the graduation clearly but the ensuing 12 hours is a bit of a blur. We danced and we drank but mostly we drank. At 6:00 a.m. the morning after convocation, a handful of my buddies and me were perched on the very top row of the grandstands at Oland Stadium. The sun was coming up.

Luckily I only lived a short distance from my mother’s home where I was living at the time. I crawled home around and was fast asleep by 6:30.

“Wake up. Wake up. You have to teach today.” Was this a voice from Hades? No. It was my mother. “I just had a call from St.Andrew Junior High and they want you to come to work,” is what I thought I heard through a boozy haze. I was tempted to say that I had already been offered a contract in the fall but mom was quick to point out that she told the principal that I would be there in 20 minutes. I recoiled in horror.

I had the quickest shower on record and struck out across the same turf that I had trod less than two hours ago. SAJH was just a stone’s throw from the football stadium. As I was walking past the stadium, I glanced up and could see a row of beer bottles on the top row of the bleachers, an honour guard of sorts.

I made my way to the principal’s office. Staggering might be more apt as I was still well over acceptable breathalyzer levels. Through bloodshot eye, I listened in wonderment and I heard the principal say the following: “You will be instructing the sheet metal class today.”

My English methods course during my education year consisted of writing, grammar, methods, philosophy and measurement. There was never a mention of sheet metal.

I’m not very good with my hands when I’m sober and alert. Putting me in a room with young adolescents and dangerous equipment while intoxicated sounded like a recipe for disaster. I thought of the doctors’ Hippocratic Oath: “Primum non nocere. First, do no harm.” Luckily, the young people in this class were right in their element and didn’t need me. I tried not to breathe on anyone and was forced to consume several cups of coffee throughout the day to maintain consciousness.

Normally when the bell rings at the end of the day, it is the students who are most joyous. On this day, one of the longest in my life, the sound of the bell was akin to a boxing ring at the end of a twelve round bout. I felt beat up but somehow survived.

It was an inauspicious beginning to my teaching career.

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