The shootings in Aurora, Colorado, rocked us all, forever changing the lives of those closest to the tragedy, and reminded us that each day is to be treasured, and hopefully lived with a purpose.
For anyone who tuned into Sabres Hockey Hotline that Friday, you might have been surprised to hear me struggling with my emotions, getting choked up when discussing the casualties and senselessness of it all. A lot of that emotion comes from being a parent and feeling such great sympathy for those families so undeserving of such overwhelming grief. Some of it also comes from confusion, my inability to comprehend how and why mass slayings have happened, and continue to happen around the world.
I was personally touched by the responses I received from listeners via social media that day. There was an appreciation for me being so honest, so saddened, and so real I think, in a world where a lot of us (myself included), on many a day, can come across - unintentionally - as somewhat phony or insincere.
It was also a difficult time for me because of who I had been preparing to speak about that day to begin with.
Just over a year ago now, Alix lost her life while skateboarding at the hands of an impaired driver. Like many in Western New York, I was waiting by the minute for the outcome of the trial two months ago, and was again, like many, shocked, angered, saddened, and sick to my stomach over the verdict that was rendered.
I don’t remember what we were discussing that night on the NHL Network, but I do remember wanting to get in the car and get home as soon as possible to see my family. It took a little longer than I had anticipated.
As soon as I was in the vehicle I was just paralyzed by the radio, and the passion (and anger I believe) in the voice of WBEN’s Tom Bauerle. Agreeing with everything he said I just felt a connection to all of it. And I hoped that at the appropriate time down the road, I could help out in some small way.
So, on that fateful Friday, I was attempting to get the message out about the “Rockin for Rice” event at Bassett Park in Amherst on July 22.
And that too brought out a lot of emotion in me.
Alix was not destined to become a professional athlete and high profile name. But at 18 years of age she had already become a person many of us could only dream of being. Just ask those that knew her.
And even those that didn’t. Like Jon Fulcher who organized the “Rockin for Rice” event.
Pretty amazing isn’t it? Someone who didn’t even know Alix worked tirelessly to get this event off to a great start in its first year.
And this is where the sports connection, or if you want to make it just hockey, the hockey connection comes into it for me. What is the one thing that we talk about more than anything else when it comes to what we want in a player on our team?
Character. Always. Over and over. Shane Doan please!
Alix was full of character. A person who would do anything for anyone in need. Sounds like the perfect teammate to me.
And in typical Buffalo fashion, and like in hockey too, Fulcher stepped up at this time of need, kickstarting a mission to get a skate park built and named in honor of Alix Rice and her family.
Understandably politics will come into play at a time like this. Despite best intentions, there will be opposition to the construction and maintenance of a new facility. And skateboarding, and its culture, unfortunately isn’t as well received by the masses as many a team sport.
Let me say this: we aren’t all the same.
Kids need different options. Thinkers need places to think. Artists need places to create. Boarders need venues to practice and be themselves.
Per capita, there are as many great young people doing things on wheels as there are on blades, spikes, and any court shoes you can find.
All sports have elements we’d rather not expose our kids to. But for some reason when there is a final score to look at on a big board, we brush those elements aside.
It’s unfair and irresponsible to simply grab a wide brush and paint skate parks with negativity. My hope is that politics won’t ruin the vision or the end goal. Because I am also looking at this another way.
In the big picture of life, we can’t win this one. We have lost an absolutely beautiful child far too soon. And the loss was compounded by the outcome of the trial.
But we have a chance to control our destiny and gain a symbolic victory. Show our city pride, and honor the Rice family by donating to the skate park, and let Alix’s name stand out as a beacon, a reminder of the perils of drunk driving.
As for the cost of the park, I have heard it will take into six figures to get it done. Exactly how much, I am not sure.
Is it a lot? I guess. But I have almost 10,000 followers on twitter (@duffersabres), the majority of them with a WNY connection. And to think that if everyone of them chipped in a single dollar, we would surely be going in the right direction wouldn’t we?
I acknowledge that a lot of my followers might be at a time in their lives when charitable donations aren’t the top priority, meaning being young, being a student, is filled with financial challenges. But it might also be a good time to discuss the ultimate goal here with a family member, take stock of what is important to you in your community, how you want Buffalo to be thought of in your lifetime and collectively come to terms on what you can do for your neighbor.
Some of our greatest joys as parents of two young girls has been seeing them learn the value of being charitable. Donating clothes and toys to those who can really use them. Watching them take a dollar and put it into a Salvation Army kettle and feeling the warmth in the heartfelt thanks from the person standing for the cause.
I know a lot of businesses are among those following me on Twitter. Perhaps they can challenge one another to step up.
If so inclined, I encourage you to go to www.alixrice.com and click on the link to donate.
I look forward to the day that ground is broken on the Alix Rice skate park. And I hope that when our kids ask us "Who was Alix Rice?", that we all do our best to tell the whole story. That Alix was an amazing daughter, friend, and example of all that is good. And that even though she was taken far to soon, her spirit and smile will always be with us.