While hockey doesn't always top the minds of those below the Mason-Dixon line, Lily Tarasiewicz, is one exception. Despite being from South Carolina, Lily is a huge Pittsburgh Penguins fan. And that's mostly thanks to her father, James. A Penguins fan through-and-through, James raised both of his children to love the Pittsburgh Penguins. And the best part? James is from Philadelphia. Respect.
The entire family was all smiles Monday when they had the chance to meet a Pittsburgh legend. It was a dream come true, thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation. Lily's wish to skate with Mario Lemieux was granted and she was thrilled. She was so unbelievably happy, she could hardly put the words together to describe the moment.
Lily was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. And while the diagnosis was a devastating blow to the Tarasiewicz family, they were inspired by both Lily's courage and Lemieux's story. Having beat the same type of cancer 23 years prior, Lemieux was an inspiration. Lily knew she could do the same as her idol. Melissa, Lily's mother, said her daughter was always confident that she would beat the cancer.
"When she found out that she had it, she said, 'Mom, I'm going to beat this. Nothing can stop me,'" she said.
And that is exactly what Lily did. She has been cancer-free for nine months, a faster recovery than even the doctors expected. Lily is a fighter. A fighter with a unique connection to one of the greatest sports figures in history.
Even though Lily is only 16 and missed almost all of Lemieux's career as a Penguin, she is still motivated by the man outside of hockey - the man who fought the same fight. The man who overcame the odds and never gave up.
Watching Mario and Lily together was encouraging. They support each other. They have a connection. A 16-year-old from South Carolina and a 51-year-old former NHL star, tied together by similar experience. The similarities weren't lost on Lily, who spoke after the skate took place. "It's very inspiring. He's 20 something years out and I know that one day I'm going to be 20 something years cancer-free too."
Even though Lily was nervous to come out to the ice at Heinz Field (who could blame her - there was a lot of media that wanted to capture the moment), Mario helped encourage her. Watching the two of them skate, it was as if they were the only two people at Heinz Field. They talked, they laughed, and Mario took Lily's hands and guided her while she skated. Lily's father James joked that she could skate on her own, but she probably wanted Mario to help her around the ice. Hey, who could blame her for that?