Speakers show courage

It takes a lot of strength and courage and support from your family and friends to have played in the National Hockey League for 16 years.

Same with Stage 3 colon cancer.

Eddie Olczyk has experienced both, and he will be sharing the lessons he has learned along the way on Sept. 22, when he takes the stage in the Steubenville High School auditorium as the Herald-Star Speaker Series Presented by Eastern Gateway Community College resumes.

You might remember his work on the ice — he was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team and was a No. 1 draft choice by his hometown Chicago Blackhawks. He scored 342 goals and had 794 points in 1,031 games with the Blackhawks, Toronto, Winnipeg, the New York Rangers, the Los Angeles Kings and the Penguins. He helped the Rangers win the Stanley Cup in 1994.

You also might remember Olczyk for his work as a commentator — on Penguins broadcasts and the networks of NBC. Maybe you remember him for his work as head coach of the Penguins or for his role as a handicapper and commentator at major thoroughbred horse races.

While his resume is impressive, Olczyk hopes that by sharing his story as a survivor, he can help others who are faced with the challenges that come with a cancer diagnosis.

“I want to be an inspiration,” Olczyk told his friend and now-former colleague at NBC Sports, Kathryn Tappen, during a presentation of “Off Script” that aired Nov. 21, 2019, on NBCSN.

“If I can help one person by them hearing my story and what I went through, then it was worth me talking about it.”

It’s a message that comes through in the book “Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” that he wrote with Perry Lefko.

“I just want people to look after themselves and be proactive, so they won’t have to go through what I did,” he writes. “I hope that somebody hears my story and has gotten checked because they weren’t feeling good. I feel for people who are going through cancer and want to be there for them if I can help in any way.”

Strength and courage has been a common theme with the speakers who have appeared since the series began on Nov. 14, 2012.

Clint Hill, for instance, knew from the moment he joined the Secret Service that one of his job responsibilities would be to step into the line of fire to protect the president and members of his family. He put all of his training and courage to use on Nov. 22, 1963, when President John .F. Kennedy was shot, jumping onto the back of the limousine to protect first Lady Jacqueline Kennedy as it sped away.

Anotonio and Jonna Mendez had the courage to work to protect the interests of the United States as spies during the Cold War. It was training that paid off when Tony used many of his clandestine tactics to successfully remove embassy officials from Iran, an event that was dramatized in the film “Argo.”

Richard Phillips had the courage to find a way to survive after his cargo ship was taken over by Somali pirates. His dramatic capture and rescue by Navy SEALS was dramatized in the film “Captain Phillips.”

Retired Air Force Col. Mark Tillman had the courage needed to ensure President George W. Bush was kept safe and would be able to make it back to Washington, D.C., in the hours after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. No one at the time could have known for sure if Air Force One had been targeted for attack that day, but Tillman was able to use his military training and skills as a pilot to bring the Boeing 747 and the leader of the free world safely back to the capital.

It took courage and determination for Rebekah Gregory to be able to get her life back after losing a leg in the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. She’s a true survivor who has not let her injury get in the way of helping others.

No one should question the courage of a Marine — and Mark “Oz” Geist demonstrated that when he and his defense contractor colleagues helped to save the lives of 25 Americans during the Battle of Benghazi, a 13-hour assault that began on Sept. 11, 2012.

Jeanine Pirro is courageous in a different way — she’s always willing to offer her take on everything that is happening in the country and around the world, no matter how her critics respond.

Michael Hayden? Just serving as a general in the Air Force shows his courage. It set the stage for his work as director of the National Security Agency, principal deputy director of national intelligence and director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He’s also been able to battle back from a stroke.

John Quinones has been determined to turn anything that seemed to be a disadvantage into an asset and has refused to let setbacks keep him from achieving his goals.

And, Matthew Charles has had the courage to work for criminal justice reform after being the first person to be released from prison under the First Step Act.

When Olczyk speaks, he will talk about his hockey career and work as a racing commentator. But he also will talk about the effects cancer has had on his life and the lives of everyone around him and describe the courage it takes to work though surgery and treatment.

It’s a message that needs to be shared, and helping to make that possible are sponsors including the Franciscan University of Steubenville, WVU Medicine — Wheeling Hospital, WesBanco, the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce, Dan Stephens — State Farm, the Wheeling Nailers, Froehlich’s Classic Corner, Steel Valley Regional Transit Authority and WTRF-TV.

Tickets start at $25 and are available at the Herald-Star office. Copies of Olczyk’s book also are available for purchase. VIP and preferred seating packages also are available.

It promises to be an interesting evening. We hope to see you there.

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)


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