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Catching Up with the Previous 21st Ducks

We found out the latest with the five previous 21st Ducks during the Home Opener at Honda Center as they reminisced about their personal memories of the honor

by Adam Brady @AdamJBrady /

Heading out onto the Honda Center ice as this year's 21st Duck, Luke Gane remembered some advice given to him from the ones who came before him. "The other 21st Ducks came alongside me when I met them before the game," he recalled, "and all of them said, 'Go slow. Enjoy the moment. Milk it, and don't try to rush it." 

That was evident as Luke took his time heading to center ice to join the Ducks team during Wednesday night's home opener at Honda Center, looking up into the crowd and fully taking in the emotional moment.

Video: 21st Duck Luke Gane Honored Pregame

It was the continuation of a proud tradition of honoring the 21st Duck, which "embodies characteristics such as great perseverance, character, courage, inspiration or a person who is making significant contributions to our community." The return of fans to the arena allowed for the traditional pre-game ceremony, as this year's honoree Luke Gane joined the team on the ice to cap off player introductions in front of a standing ovation from the crowd.

In 2008, Luke was diagnosed with Severe Aplastic Anemia and received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant from his younger brother Jacob. A lifelong Ducks fan and hockey player, Luke ultimately recovered and dedicated his life to helping others. More on Luke here

As part of the celebration, four of the previous five 21st Ducks were in attendance at Honda Center (2017 honoree Katie Hawley was back at school at Baylor University) to join Luke, share their stories and take in Anaheim's 4-1 opening night victory over Winnipeg. 

We got the chance to catch up with all of them to see what they're up to lately and what being the 21st Duck meant to each of them. 

Angelique Fong

A two-time breast cancer survivor, Angelique tackled her diagnosis with bravery and determination. Turning her journey into an opportunity to help others, Fong created her "Radiate Kindness" initiative with 33 random acts of kindness, one for each of her radiation treatments.

Her 21st Duck experience was unlike the others, as the pandemic kept fans out of Honda Center for most of last season. Instead, the Ducks turned the tables on her fandom, by bringing her to center ice after a Ducks practice where she was surprised by the players in the stands cheering for her.  

"Getting to spend that time with the Ducks, and that moment when I finally realized it was the actual players, it was such an interesting switch for me, because I'm used to being in the stands and cheering them on," she said. "It was so touching to actually have them legitimately cheering and holding up signs. It was very heartwarming. So I didn't have a traditional experience like the others, but I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Video: 21st Duck Angelique Fong Gets Surprise of a Lifetime

Angelique was thrilled to be able to return to Honda Center for the game Wednesday night and spend time with the previous 21st Duck honorees.  

"It's surreal in such a good way to be able to share this excitement in person," she said. "I at least got to spend some time with the other 21st Ducks at the end of last season, but to have this opportunity to get together and welcome in Luke, it's just so cool." 

She and her husband Jeffery had just moved her mother out to Orange County from Arizona the day before ("We had to get her out of Coyote territory before another season started," she quipped), and Mom was emotional the minute they arrived Wednesday night. "She's already crying," Angelique said with a laugh. 

Angelique, who chaired the Susan G. Komen Orange County MORE THAN PINK WALK last month, celebrated two years of being cancer free yesterday - her "second cancerversary" as she put it. "I'm thinking a Radiate Kindness act or two is going to have to take place because there's no better way to celebrate being alive than to make other people smile." 

She's reveled in the opportunities that being the 21st Duck has provided her. "It's the best job, a unique job, and there is really nothing that can prepare you for it," she said. "Just the people you get to interact with and the lives that you touch without realizing it. I look at the other 21st Ducks, and I'm incredibly inspired by them. I don't feel like I belong with them, but it's a huge compliment because they're amazing with all the things they've accomplished and who they've influenced." 

Lera Doederlein 

Honored as 21st Duck in 2019, Lera is a double-above-knee amputee who is a player and advocate for adaptive sports. In fact, the 18-year-old has taken up Para Nordic skiing with a goal of making the 2022 Paralympics in Beijing. She's currently training and attending school in the San Diego area, but is heading to Bozeman, Montana in a few weeks to stay there full time and train. 

She has played sled hockey for the San Diego Ducks and was recently named to the U.S. national team, "So I'm trying to balance that out with skiing." 

The moment two years ago when she sledded out to center ice to join the Ducks during the home opener is still something she flashes back to every time she's at Honda Center.  

Video: 21st Duck Lera Doederlein Introduced On Ice

"All of the emotions are rushing back being here," Doederlein said. "Every time I see the ice, I think about when they all surrounded me. Seeing Luke as the new 21st Duck just makes me so excited. I'm really just glad to be back with everybody.

"It's very humbling to hear all their stories and just being around them all at once. Especially tonight it's very special for us to share the 21st Duck experience and embrace the game together. It's incredible." 

Michael Lu

Michael has taken his 21st Duck experience to grow his advocacy for Parkinson's disease awareness through the Parkinson's Resource Organization and the search to find a cure. 

"There's nothing better than this, having the 21st Duck family grow, having a close, tight network with these individuals who have had their own battles and struggles. Being able to fall back on them and share stories is just amazing. It's very inspiring hearing everyone's stories and the journeys that they've gone through and what they've overcome."

Michael recently got engaged, and he and his fiancée Thalia are getting married next September in Ensenada. They're now living up in Palo Alto, where Michael is working as a school psychologist at Roosevelt Elementary in nearby Redwood City. The only downfall to the move is he hasn't skated in awhile, as he used to play in pickup games all the time when he lived in Orange County. "I haven't had time," he lamented. "I'm currently looking for a team up in San Jose. Any opportunity I can get to skate, I'd take it in a heartbeat." 

It was three years ago that he joined the Ducks for a practice and smoothly skated out to center ice during pregame introductions at the home opener. "Every time I'm here I think about it," he said. "There were so many jitters and nerves being out there with the team. It was just so amazing with the crowd, the energy, the adrenaline flowing, everything." 

Video: DET@ANA: Michael Lu is introduced as the 21st Duck

Kai Quinonez

Kai was the first-ever 21st Duck honoree back in 2015 at the age of 13. The youth hockey player was diagnosed with aplastic anemia when he was just 9, and through the Make-A-Wish Foundation he was given the opportunity to practice with the Ducks and join them for the home opener. He arrived that evening with his favorite player, Hampus Lindholm, and the news that he would skate out with the team was actually given to him as a last-minute surprise.

"I remember being with Hampus, and how great of a player and how nice of a guy he is," said the now 19-year-old Quinonez. "It was so great to be able to spend that time with him. 

"We were just talking about how we got to do the opening skate. I was talking about how they didn't tell me I was doing mine, that they surprised me with it. They said they wouldn't do that to anyone ever again." 

Video: Kai Quinonez Honored as 21st Duck on Opening Night

Kai graduated from Los Alamitos High School and is now attending Orange Coast College. He's looking at four-year schools out of state with hopes of working in the property management business. He remains a passionate Ducks fan who is grateful for the chance return to the opening night festivities. 

"It's just great to be back with the 21st Duck family," he said. "I'm excited to be with everyone and watch the game together."

Katie Hawley

The memories of Katie's 21st Duck experience are burned in the minds of many Ducks fans because of one unforgettable and very emotional video. Katie has faced a personal battle with cancer since the age of 9, enduring dozens of procedures and treatments. In addition, she has worked with a number of non-profits, notably the Jessie Rees Foundation, whose motto is to "never ever give up."

When she was honored as 21st Duck back in 2017, she was guided out to center ice by Ducks forwards Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry, telling both of them to make sure they scored that night. Perry had two goals, both assisted by Rakell. Then late in the third period of a tie game, Rakell scored the go-ahead goal with just 3 1/2 minutes left to help Anaheim knock off Arizona. After that goal, TV cameras captured Katie pointing to herself and shouting, "THAT WAS FOR ME!"

Video: Katie Hawley reacts to Rickard Rakell's game-winner

"I've had a lot of amazing experiences in my life, a lot of really cool things have happened to me, but that night easily ranks right up there," she said via phone from Texas. "I was on social media last night and looking at all the pictures, and I was like, 'I wish I was there!'" 

She's in the middle of her senior year of business school at Baylor, where she will graduate in May with a focus in marketing. It's the first time she's been at school in person since her freshman year, "So it's been a huge blessing but it's a little stressful as well."

The pandemic and her own personal health struggles kept her away from campus for awhile. In fact, she underwent her last round of chemotherapy nine months ago and has spent most of this year, "Watching my hair grow back. I'm on a medication right now with some side effects that make school difficult, but I'm on a pill a day, which is amazing. I've had a lot worse, so I will take it." 

She chuckles at the memory of taking one of her finals from a hospital bed. "I put a sign on the door saying, 'Hey nurses, I'm in a final right now, so nobody can come in,'" she said. "They said they'd never seen that one before. I actually got an A." 

Last summer she did a sales and marketing internship with Vita Coco coconut water, which she enjoyed. But after graduation she is uncertain what she wants to do career-wise. "I know I have a heart for helping others," she said. "I may want to get into non-profits or wherever the wind takes me."

As she balances her studies with her ongoing health battles, "It's really just having things to look forward to in the future that gets me through," she says. "The possibility of having a good job or the possibility of helping the world, that's what gets me through."

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