On Wednesday night at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pascal Dupuis accepted the inaugural Dapper Dan Courage Award, presented to a Pittsburgh-area athlete who best exemplifies the meaning of perseverance by overcoming adversity while serving as an inspiration to their teammates or organization.
After a video played with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang – who was at the auction and dinner to support his friend – all leaving heartfelt messages for their teammate, Dupuis gave a speech. Here are his remarks.
"Thank you everybody. It’s such an honor to be here among you guys tonight, amongst some great athletes in Pittsburgh sports history. Tonight I’m here with my beautiful wife and my four kids: my son Kody; my daughters Maeva, Zoe and Lola. I definitely would never be here without them. They’re the reason I worked so hard for so many years. Also here tonight onstage, everybody obviously recognizes him. This handsome fella right here, Kris Letang, also known as my daughter Lola’s boyfriend. (Laughs) Sorry.
"As athletes, we live a life that leads us to think we’re invincible and lets us believe that we’re bigger than injuries. But the truth is, we’re not. I tried to block out the fear associated with my condition. I told myself, I’m a hockey player. Hockey players are tough. They’re supposed to be tough. And I’d like to think that we are. Sometimes though, you can’t ignore the real signs that your body is sending you. I know that I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing, but that didn’t mean I accepted it. I fought it. It drove me nuts, actually. It was in the back of my head for a while. Then it happened – I had to let go. It’s really ironic, looking back, that making the decision was going to be the toughest moment for me as a hockey player in my hockey career. Walking away, choosing to put hockey aside, was far scarier than playing with my condition on the ice.
"Tonight I’m here because of the word courage. I don’t consider myself courageous. I wasn’t trying to be a hero. Instead, I consider myself blessed. I was blessed to do what I love for as long as I did. I was blessed to have the support of the greatest organization in professional sports and the friendship of amazing teammates.
"As you guys know, my hockey career was far more storied than I could ever imagine. Long before my injury, I took pride in proving critics wrong. It drove me. I was never drafted. I didn’t stand on a stage holding a jersey. I was somewhere, somewhere working hard to get there a different way. I loved the underdog title, so when I got traded to Pittsburgh, I decided to focus on one thing: to make sure the ‘other guy’ in the (Marian) Hossa trade had a name for himself, had a name in Pittsburgh. I’d like to think that now, it’s probably known as the Dupuis and Hossa trade, or the Dupuis trade, if you guys want. Playing alongside some of the best players in hockey on any given night was definitely the main reason why I worked so hard. I was way too scared to look like I didn’t belong.
"When we got here in Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh instantly became home. It’s a place my family loves, it’s a place my family feels comfortable. It’s a place we’ve made some lifelong friends and it’s a place we’ve made some great memories. Walking away from the sport I lived and breathed for 36 years was the hardest decision of my life. So tonight, I’d like to thank the Pittsburgh Penguins, especially Mr. Mario Lemieux and Mr. Ron Burkle. The entire Pittsburgh community. Thanks to the Post-Gazette and the Dapper Dan for giving me the opportunity to properly say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you to each and every person that made Pittsburgh my home, my family’s home. Thank you guys."