- It seems fitting that the most historic NHL event to play out at Nationwide Arena will include the biggest fan of the Columbus Blue Jackets
Nineteen-year-old Ryan Salmons, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April 2008, will try to be an inspiration for his favorite team when the Blue Jackets play Game 3 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the defending Stanley Cup-champion Detroit Red Wings
on Tuesday night.
"I just want to feel the energy going through the stadium and I think it's going to be crazy, even though we are going into the game, down 0-2 in the series," Salmons told NHL.com from the bedside of his Grove City home. "We'll get re-energized, we're going to be pushing for the Jackets no matter what."
For Salmons, having the chance to witness his beloved Blue Jackets play their first home playoff game in franchise history from Section 103 is a moment he'll cherish forever. It'll be right up there with those two framed pictures in his room -- a personalized autographed photo with Wayne Gretzky
and the one that depicts his exhilaration after signing a one-day NHL contract offered to him by Columbus General Manager Scott Howson on March 25.
Salmons is battling alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a terminal cancer that wraps around muscle tissue throughout the body. His medical regimen each day begins with four rounds of pills and four injections of the steroid Decadron before the administration of platelets and blood. He swallows approximately 115-117 pills each week, but still makes an effort to help others whenever possible.
"When the doctors diagnosed me, my first thoughts were, 'I can't have cancer, I'm an 18-year-old kid who is physically fit,' " Salmons said. "I've been lifting weights for a year-and-a-half. I've been staying on top of my physical stuff, so there's no way I can have cancer."
Salmons defies the disease that is slowly taking over of his body and, instead, has become a source of inspiration and motivation to the team and the community. His words of encouragement, at a time when the going has certainly become tough, exemplify his courageousness.
"A month ago, I was given 4-to-6 weeks to live, but I'm still fighting. I'm in a window that should be closed, but I'm still fighting," Salmons said. "Hey, there're still enjoyable things to do. Why turn over and give up when you can go out and enjoy life? I'll never know how many people I've touched or have read my story, but it's very neat to have people come up and introduce themselves and say what a big inspiration I am. They always tell me to keep fighting and that's awesome. Those things are what keep me happy and smiling and moving along."
And through it all, his father has been beside him every step of the way.
"This last year has been amazing and phenomenal for me and my dad," Ryan said. "It's brought us together; we're inseparable. Granted, we're not doing the things that a father and son would normally do, like play a round of golf or go on vacation, but this last year has been one of the better years of our lives just because how close we are together."
His fear of dying alone in the middle of the night have been eased by the presence of his stepmother, Susan, and the family dog, a Weimaraner named Abby, who has never missed a chance to sleep alongside her trusted owner during the early morning hours.
"I'll never know how many people I've touched or have read my story, but it's very neat to have people come up and introduce themselves and say what a big inspiration I am. They always tell me to keep fighting and that's awesome. Those things are what keep me happy and smiling and moving along."
-- Ryan Salmons
When Howson and the Blue Jackets Foundation learned of Salmons' condition and his fight, they made it a point to sign him up for the stretch run. The deal included a $3 signing bonus and an incentive clause of two tickets to the Jackets' first home playoff game, should they qualify. That was made official on April 8 when the Jackets scored a 4-3 shootout decision over the Chicago Blackhawks
Blue Jackets forward Jason Chimera
, who visits Salmons often and texts him on his cell phone, called his good friend 10 minutes after the club had officially qualified with the win over Chicago that night.
"The spirit that the team has given him to continue to push on has kept his spirits up as he's been going through these cancer treatments the last 6-to-9 months," Brad Salmons said. "I think he helps push the players and the players, in turn, push him."
The Blue Jackets Foundation, a charity that includes pediatric cancer research and treatment, has sold over 90 jerseys with the Salmons name and No. 3 on the back. Salmons' sweater is actually the third highest-selling jersey on the team, behind Rick Nash
and Steve Mason
"It's kind of neat to be up there and on that list," Salmons smiled. "It's fitting I'm in third because my jersey number is 3, which happens to be my favorite number."
"He's sold more than I think I've sold in my career," Chimera told NHL.com. "It's nice and pretty special and tells you the type of kid he is. He deserves this attention. He's been waiting a long time for a playoff game in Columbus and I think, for him, it means a little bit more than anyone else, so it's going to be a special moment."
One thing Brad Salmons is most proud of is the fact he is now regarded as "Ryan's dad" when, six months ago, Ryan was referred to as "Brad's son."
"(Ryan) keeps telling me that there's one more thing he's hanging on for," Brad Salmons said. "I don't know what that is, but when it happens he said I'll know. One thing's for sure, he'll be at the arena on Tuesday and cheering hard for the Blue Jackets."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.