Cancer is a scary word to anyone.
Mitch Konkle gets a little relief and inspiration knowing Mario Lemieux overcame that dreaded six-letter term.
Konkle, a 9-year-old from Michigan, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in June. One thing that’s kept him fighting is the knowledge that his hero, Lemieux, battled and beat Hodgkin’s disease.
Konkle got a special treat courtesy of NBC’s television show “Three Wishes.” The inspirational series, starring Amy Grant, helps hopes and dreams of deserving people across America come true. The segment involving Konkle and Lemieux will air on Friday at 9 p.m.
On Nov. 18, Konkle’s dream of meeting Lemieux came true. Konkle and his family came to Pittsburgh and got a tour of the Penguins’ locker room at Mellon Arena before practice. To Konkle’s amazement, he had a locker stall set up next to Lemieux’s featuring a No. 66 jersey with his own last name on the back. It got even better as Lemieux walked into the room for a surprise meeting.
“I didn’t know he was coming, but then I saw him,” Konkle said. “It’s so cool.”
The two chatted awhile before Lemieux took the ice for practice.
“He told me to just keep it up,” Konkle said. “It was pretty awesome to spend some time with him.”
Konkle derives his inspiration for Lemieux, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease in January, 1993. Soon after, Lemieux’s radiation treatment began Feb. 1 and ended March 2. He returned to the ice that night in Philadelphia and scored a goal and added an assist. He registered at least one point in 18 of his next 20 games, totaling 56 points (30+26). He won the Art Ross Trophy with 160 points (69+91) despite playing in only 60 games. In addition, he won the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s MVP.
So, Lemieux was more than happy to chat with Konkle and give him even more encouragement.
“It’s something I enjoy doing. That’s the least I can do is to try to make a little kid happy when he’s going through some tough times,” Lemieux said. “I went through the same thing in ’93 with Hodgkin’s. I know it’s difficult at times, but we just talked about looking to the future and not dwelling so much on the present and being positive all the time, which he’s been. He’s doing great.”
Konkle sat in the Mellon Arena stands with his family and watched Lemieux and the Penguins practice.
“I had fun watching practice,” he said.
Konkle even got to walk out on the ice and pass a puck around for a short time with Lemieux. When practice was over, Konkle came in the locker room and the two chatted more. Lemieux even gave Konkle one of his hockey sticks.
“It was fun,” Konkle said.
The next day, Konkle and his family attended the Penguins’ home game against the rival Flyers. Konkle dropped the game’s ceremonial first puck between Lemieux and Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne.
Konkle received a roaring applause from the 17,132 fans in attendance that night. He can expect even more on Friday.