– It’s a diagnosis that nobody ever wants to hear. And the anxiety is only heightened when it’s associated with a child.
A cancer diagnosis is beyond scary. The word ‘cancer’ alone has the ability to carry a crippling punch to the human spirit. But not to the young man who visited Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday.
Riley Wild, a 13-year-old, from Mendota Heights, Minn., had the unique opportunity to skate with some of the Red Wings before their practice. He also spent significant time on the ice after practice with his absolute favorite NHL player – Pavel Datsyuk
It’s been 21-months since doctors told Riley’s family that a tumor – called a sarcoma – was growing on his pelvic bone. Riley endured surgery to remove the mass, followed by months of debilitating radiation and chemotherapy.
“It was a tumor that was attached to his pelvic bone, and the radiation that he had after the surgery, there was some concern because there is a pretty large growth plate right there,” said Mark Wild, Riley’s father. “It wasn’t known how it would impact his growth, but he doesn’t have the same range-of-motion on his left side – where the tumor was – than he has on the right side.”
But as Mark Wild continued to describe his rambunctious, brown-haired son, he said one thing has been a constant since that fateful day in June 2009 – very little gets this seventh-grader down in the dumps.
“He doesn’t really know any limits,” said Mark, as he watched from the Red Wings’ bench as his son skated with Datsyuk. “He just wants to go, go, go. Obviously, it was quite incredibly scary for him when he was diagnosed, but once he got into treatment he was like, ‘Well, this is my thing right now.’ He’s just never complained.”
The Wilds are a hockey family living in a hockey-crazy state. So it’s no wonder that Riley began playing when he was 6. And all of them, including Riley’s grandfather, who was on the 1948 U.S. Olympic hockey team, are huge Datsyuk fans.
“He’s a Pavel fan because we’ve all been Pavel fans,” Mark said. “His cousin was real helpful during his chemo. He was a caddy master at a golf course and he kind of got Riley started caddying there. They’ve become pretty good golfing buds. His dad is a huge Pavel fan, as I am, so Riley couldn’t help it.”
Riley also appreciates Datsyuk’s craftiness, his ability to magically snatch the puck away from an opponent or to dazzle an unsuspecting goalie with a Datsyukian move, which leads to a spectacular goal.
“He never stands still,” said Riley of his hockey hero.
When it was finally time to meet his idol, Riley couldn’t help but be a little tense.
“In the beginning, when I first got out there, I was nervous,” said Riley, whose Red Wings adventure was made possible by the Michigan and Minnesota chapters of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “But then it wasn’t as bad. … He’s real nice.”
Datsyuk offered shooting, puck-handling and skating tips to Riley, whose Pee-Wee A season with the Sibley Area Generals recently concluded.
“I liked that he was teaching me some stuff, with his pointers on shooting, and also skating and stuff, like doing crossovers,” said Riley, who also got into a mock scuffle with the Wings’ all-star center.
As his son mucked it up with Datsyuk, Mark Wild beamed about the overall experience.
“This is like being a kid in a candy store,” Mark said. “Riley is probably a little bit more excited than what us older people are.”