I met Gracie Bowen when we were playing the Toronto Maple Leafs last year in Toronto and I came down to the hotel lobby. She is sitting in a wheelchair with her family, wearing her Kings’ attire. The visual was this -- a little bald head with no hair, and eyes that just captivate you.
I went over and saw she obviously had some Kings stuff on and asked her some questions. I found out she was there as a guest of Justin Williams. She had pictures of the day with Justin Williams and the Stanley Cup. The one thing that obviously visually stuck out as well, other than her beautiful smile, was that she had lost her leg from the knee down, and her foot was on upside down. When I asked her father he said she had her choice and she had it put on that way because it still gave her a chance to skate. It kind of told me how much passion she had for hockey. He said she was a great little hockey player.
I got to meet the family -- Greg, Andrea and McKenzie, the other sister there, and went up to the room. I had a couple of Kings hats that I had for Christmas for my daughters, and I thought it would be nice to have for her because she said she was going to get cold at the rink. So, I went up there, got her one and came back to the Leafs game where they asked me to drive with them to the game. I met them at the game. Again, she was out fist pumping the guys as they got on the ice. Justin had set all that stuff up and I just became mesmerized with the whole story.
Justin explained what went on. I spoke to the dad about it, how she went from feeling a little pain in her leg to finding out she had cancer and losing the leg. We talked a lot through Willie. We talked about her all the time.
After that I met her at the World Juniors on a scouting trip. She was there, all painted up with her Canadian jerseys on. We spoke again and I made a couple trips back and had taken the family out to dinner. We became really close through Justin. It was just an incredible story. It hit home for me, having three little girls that I didn’t get to see that much, and to see this little girl and her strength, how much passion and how she just kept smiling through all the adversity.
She had mentioned that one of her dreams was to come to Los Angeles. I spoke to Luc Robitaille about it, and the people at Kings Care were incredible. Time became an issue unfortunately. The father had called me and told me that Gracie didn’t know it was terminal.
Luc and Amanda Ellis of Kings Care and the whole group there really stepped up to the plate and without much time in the season. Barry Melrose was having a Legends Night, and there was so much stuff planned for him it was going to be difficult, but we got it arranged. She, on numerous occasions, could barely get on the plane because she was not feeling well. She kind of gutted it out and just had a dream night here.
She flew in and I had dinner with her and her family. She met Luc and a bunch of different Kings but she was just captivating and it was arranged for her to drop the puck. That night Justin Williams was going to represent us as captain and take the ceremonial faceoff against Mark Giordano and it was magical. Barry Melrose graciously handed over the spotlight and Grace took over the building. We had an incredible evening. They kept showing her on the jumbotron and the entire crowd would just go crazy.
It meant a lot to me that our organization took on something in such a short period of time and made such a special evening for her, but special for everybody. I remember Willie saying to me after saying how much it meant to him and we also acknowledged that’s probably the last time we’re going to see Grace alive.
She went home and unfortunately passed about a month and a half later. They said this was something she just couldn’t stop talking about. We were fortunate enough -- it’s one of those catch-22’s I guess where you say to yourself she’s touched so many lives -- but when you think somebody that young would have to lose their life to such a horrible disease. She fought it to the very end.
Justin later asked me to go speak at her funeral on his behalf and the family asked me to say a few words. It was incredible as the entire community was there. They had all her pictures up with all her Kings stuff on. She had a little guardian angel necklace, that I had given her, in her casket.
Again, she just touched so many different people. Her family talked about a bigger purpose, a way for her to continue to make people aware of the disease. The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto was trying to raise money for the Grace Foundation and I know Ryan Reynolds, the actor, and Hayley Wickenheiser were involved in it. I think they got close to $80,000 raised. It was pretty big but if you get up to $100,000 they name a portion of the wing at the hospital for sick kids after, so it would be Gracie Bowen’s Wing.
I remember going back and talking to a couple buddies and all the guys here signed some Kings jerseys for me. I had the Giordano jersey framed and the Justin Williams jersey framed and we had a really special night. My group of drunken Canadian soldiers found a way to raise $25,000 dollars in a single afternoon just chipping in for Grace and that kind of put it over the top with regards to the bigger picture.
We wanted to make sure when I talked to Greg and Andrea and McKenzie that it’s not just something you feel emotionally devastated so you want to make it happen in one day because then the ability to think about her for years to come and how important she is, it will be lost, and somebody of this magnitude.
It hit home for me. I told these players that they are asked to do so many different things. They go in to hospitals and see this all the time and how much it touches their lives. For me this was the first time I had ever gone through anything like this. My mom and dad have a shrine to Amazing Grace.
For one thing, it brought me and Justin Williams, who probably out of all the people on the team, I think we were buddies and stuff like that, but I wasn’t responsible for drafting some of the kids that year. I didn’t know him that well, but he became, clearly, one of my closest friends. We spent numerous times talking about Grace and in general about parenting, how horrible the disease is and anything we can continue to do. It’s in Grace’s name for that, but just in general to just fight the disease.
People lose their lives that live full lives, and you say maybe they lived a full life. But to have an affliction like that, at that age, it’s devastating and it’s not fair and it makes you angry. If you don’t do anything about it, you’ve got to be prepared to back up your words and try to raise the money -- be selfless in trying to conquer something like that.