Super Mario lived up to his name Monday.
As part of his 2017 Mario Lemieux Fantasy Camp, the former Pittsburgh Penguins great took Penguins fan and cancer survivor Lily Tarasiewicz for the skate of a lifetime at the outdoor rink at Heinz Field.
"It was a great experience, and he is really down to earth, but he also inspires me a lot," Tarasiewicz said. "I feel overwhelmed, but I have a lot of gratitude toward [Lemieux] for taking the time out of his schedule to spend some time with me."
Tarasiewicz, 16, was diagnosed with Stage 3B Hodgkin's lymphoma in October of 2015, the same illness that Lemieux was diagnosed with on Jan. 14, 1993 and fought during his playing career. After four months of intense chemotherapy and 14 rounds of radiation over two more months, she was ruled cancer-free May 18, 2016.
"It's been nine months now that she's been cancer-free," Lily's mom Melissa said.
The Tarasiewiczs live in Chesterfield, South Carolina, but are a Penguins household thanks to Lily's dad James, who had the unenviable task of rooting for the Penguins while growing up in Philadelphia. Her wish, made possible by Make-A-Wish Foundation Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia, also included tickets to her first in-person NHL game: the 2017 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, a game Pittsburgh won 4-2.
"It was very cold," Tarasiewicz said of attending the game. "I really liked the game because they beat the Flyers, obviously."
Lily, who had only skated on ice once prior to Monday, nearly cancelled the skating portion of her wish, but Lemieux insisted. After helping her put her skates on and walking her to the rink, Lemieux held her hands for the duration of the skate.
"She was going back and forth about wanting to do it and not wanting to do it, and when we got into the locker room, she decided she wasn't comfortable," Melissa said. "Next thing you know, [Lemieux] is walking through the door of the locker room, and he said 'c'mon Lily, we're going to go do this.'"
Lemieux would not be denied the chance to do right by a fellow cancer survivor.
"When Mario found out that there was a Make-a-Wish that wanted to meet him, he told them to make it happen," Melissa said. "He said he felt like he had a special bond having the same thing that he had."