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Local teen has fought cancer with help from Blue Jackets

Tyler Woodward accompanied team on recent trip to New York

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

At the end of one of the longest days of the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the most popular member of the organization for a day had a lot of energy as he greeted his fans one final time. 

The energy was still radiating from Tyler Woodward as the 18-year-old stood on the team plane upon its return to Columbus in the early morning hours of Dec. 28. 

The Reynoldsburg High School student had spent the whole day with the Columbus Blue Jackets, traveling with the team as it took on the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 27. 

And as he prepared for the day to be over, the teenager battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia received one final surprise. 

Video: Tyler Woodward has an experience he'll never forget

As the Blue Jackets players departed the plane, each one had a special goodbye for Woodward. For some, a fist bump or a handshake. For others, a high five as they walked by. For all, an encouraging message to close as memorable a day as Tyler has had. 

"It was just so crazy," he said. "I was kind of coming into this expecting to be, not like a nuisance, but I was just along for the ride. So to have everybody shake my hand and give me fist bumps and high fives on the way off the plane was super cool. 

"It was cool to have the guys interact with you without somebody having to be like, 'Hey, this is Tyler. He has cancer. Do nice things for him.' It was really great to not only be there but almost feel like one of the guys for the day." 

Tyler's day started in similar fashion. As he boarded the team plane for the trip to New Jersey for the experience set up by the team and Blue Jackets Foundation and highlighted at this year's CannonBall on Wednesday night, Woodward was shepherded not to the front of the plane where team staffers sit but to the back, where he could spend the flight with players, by Nick Foligno. 

From hearing stories about the players' hockey careers to debating whether he should order food, Tyler spent the entire flight chatting with members of the team. 

"Eventually I kind of just forgot that I wasn't on the team," Tyler said. "Nick kept asking me like, 'Hey, do you want to order something? Are you going to get food?' I was legitimately too nervous to eat.

"It felt like I was talking with them and not just sitting there listening to their conversation." 

The incredible experience was put together by the CBJ Foundation, which had Foligno surprise Tyler with the offer to travel with the team just before Christmas. But the trip wasn't the end for Tyler's CBJ experience as he joined Foligno at the foundation's CannonBall event presented by American Eagle Mortgage and Bartha on Wednesday.

Tyler fit right in with the players and was a superstar in his own right. He joined Nick on stage and even hung out with head coach John Tortorella.

"Tyler is just an inspiration. We're so glad to have him join us," Tortorella said.

It was just the latest instance of the Blue Jackets going above and beyond to make one of their biggest fans feel like a part of the squad as he fights a battle no kid should have to go through. 

"His whole life in some way or another has been connected to that team," his father, Woody, said. "You can draw a straight line from his birth to the birth of the team. It's so good to see him hang out with the players after what he's been through." 

If you're inspired to help kids like Tyler, please give here:

Tyler's Journey 

Tyler Woodward was at the first Columbus Blue Jackets game, but of course he wouldn't remember that. 

He hadn't been born yet. 

Oct. 7, 2000, was still 20 days before his birthday, which is a significant date in and of itself - Oct. 27 was the first time fans left Nationwide Arena celebrating a Blue Jackets victory. Just over a month later, on Dec. 8, Tyler attended his first game - and Geoff Sanderson scored in overtime to give Columbus a win over Boston. 

Hockey always was a family thing for the Woodwards, as his father Woody grew up in the Toledo area and once broadcast Bowling Green hockey games, and Tyler's older brothers played. For Tyler, the sport was a major part of his life from an early age. 

"I knew all the names of the teams before I knew the alphabet," he said. "I used to call the national anthem 'the hockey song' because it played before every Blue Jackets game. That was the correlation that I made there." 

Woodward attended games throughout his childhood and was in the stands for Game 4 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, cheering on the Blue Jackets as the team won its first-ever playoff home game thanks to Foligno's overtime goal. 

Little did Woodward know at the time he'd soon have a relationship with Foligno - but it would come at a cost. 

In April 2016, just as he was preparing to try out for his high school's hockey team as a sophomore, he was diagnosed. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a type of cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). It's the most common type of cancer in children. 

Yet Woodward approached his treatment with an uncommon zeal. He started treatments immediately, but they weren't easy. Tyler missed eight months of school, lost his hair, and was sapped of his strength and much of his weight.  

As he fought cancer, many tried to help out. He had the chance to meet Daisy Ridley through the Make-A-Wish Foundation at the premier of "The Last Jedi," but his time with the Blue Jackets has been among the most fulfilling. 

He was a fitting choice to be one of the Blue Jackets Foundation's pediatric cancer Heroes during the Hockey Fights Cancer Night in November 2016, as the treatment was ongoing.

After that, the organization stayed in touch, and along the way he became close with different members of the organization. From Foligno to Boone Jenner to Cam Atkinson to Ryan Murray to Jody Shelley, each has had a special part of Tyler's journey. 

"I definitely didn't ever expect this," Tyler said. "Even when I was first selected for the hero program, I definitely expected to go to this game and that would be it. But I've gotten to do so many other things. It's just so crazy that the organization has been this welcoming, to give me the opportunity to do these insane things." 

Road to Recovery 

Tyler's cancer journey isn't over, but he's starting to see the end. He's officially in remission but still undergoes inpatient chemotherapy once a month and spinal taps every three. He takes a fistful of pills each day, but the last chemotherapy appointment is scheduled for July. 

Already, life has a semblance of normalcy. His hair his back, he spends a lot of his time with his girlfriend, and he's held the lead role in two school plays at Reynoldsburg High School. 

That was one reason he took one extra excursion during the Blue Jackets' trip to New York City. While players rested at the team hotel before the game, Tyler and his dad were given the chance to see a Broadway production of the musical "Aladdin." 

"We definitely made the most of our time there," Tyler said. "The show was just amazing." 

After a quick stop for pizza, Woodward and his father were on to Madison Square Garden, where they sat with fellow Blue Jackets family members for the game. At one point, Tyler spotted legendary New York Ranger forward Rod Gilbert and was able to snap a photo with the Hockey Hall of Famer. 

Only one thing was missing until the very end - a good result. Columbus trailed 3-2 late in the game and gave up a goal to fall into a 4-2 hole, and Tyler was left with a pit in his stomach. But the goal was overturned on review, which led to one of the team's best comeback wins of the year - Zach Werenski scored in the final minutes and Pierre-Luc Dubois got the winner shortly into overtime. 

Afterward, the Woodwards went into the locker room to talk about the win with the players, spending their fair share of time with Werenski to talk about his big goal. 

From there, it was a slow return to reality. Tyler and his dad traveled with the team to the airport, then boarded a quiet flight back to Columbus. 

More than 17 hours after the team took off, the plane landed, signaling the end of a busy but fruitful day. All that was left was for the team to head its separate ways - giving Tyler one final chance for an indelible moment. 

Twenty handshakes, high-fives and fist bumps later, Tyler was left with one departing memory. 

"It was an incredible day," Woody said. "It was more than we ever could have imagined, and certainly for me, one of the high points, to see your kid go through what he's gone through, to see him have an experience like that is so rewarding and so uplifting as a parent." 

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