Friday, March 12, 2010


With the Paralympics set to begin today, the family of former Express captain Brady Cook is wishing they were in Vancouver for the opening ceremonies.

He's been playing with the sledge hockey team recently. But he's had a set back.

Here's his story from

Matt Cook's jersey was hanging where he would normally sit in Team Canada's dressing room at the Sledge Hockey Challenge last week. His equipment bag sat in front of his stall, as if No. 16 was ready to go.

Cook, 22, was supposed to be there. He'd trained all summer to be there, had moved across the country to be closer to his teammates. To work toward his Paralympic dream.

But last month, a wheezing cough led him to hospital and doctors delivered the worst: He had between three to six months to live.

"They gave me the devastating news that they figure I've got a short timeframe left. It was a huge shock, a huge shock," Cook told in a phone interview from Edmonton.

"But I feel like everything happens for a reason. If I'm supposed to beat this, I think I will."

He already has. Twice.

But the bone cancer that claimed Cook's left leg at age 18 and reappeared in his lungs in 2008 is back, and this time, doctors say there aren't any treatment options.

trueGreg Westlake and Matt Cook. Greg Strong/The Canadian Press
Two months ago, his prognosis was more hopeful. He wasn't terminal and some doctors were optimistic he'd have a year or two "before things really got bad," as Cook put it.

So, he picked up and moved to Mississauga, Ont., to be closer to his team. "I just figured, why not go with it? Make the move and try to make the most of this year," Cook said during an interview back in September. "If I'm going to try and play hockey this year, I might as well go 100 per cent."

Three months ago, Cook talked of the honour in wearing the Team Canada jersey and playing at the Paralympics. "It would be a great way to thank my family and friends who supported me when I was at my ultimate low," he said. Through the amputation. Through the chemotherapy. Through the many surgeries.

He targeted a two-game series in Rochester last month as his comeback after he was sidelined by back-to-back surgeries in the summer, but two weeks before he was set to return, doctors delivered the devastating news.

Cook called head coach Jeff Snyder to tell him it had been an honour playing for him before moving back to Edmonton to be closer to his family, friends and doctors.

"It's been real tough. He's on our minds all the time," said Snyder, the team's head coach since 2004. "He's such a well-liked player.

"He wasn't with us in Torino in 2006, so he didn't get to experience that, going to the Paralympics. I just wish so much that he could get to experience that.

"It's really difficult. As a coach you always want to help your team get through whatever obstacles are in their way," Snyder said. "This is one they don't teach you about at any coaching clinics, that's for sure."

The jersey and equipment in the dressing room last week were one way to honour Cook, to make him a part of the experience.

"It's our reminder on the way out to the ice to take a look in his stall and remember that there's somebody that would love to be here, would love to play hard for the team, but he can't," said teammate Greg Westlake, one of Cook's roommates in Mississauga.

"He's still a big part of our team. Hopefully it raises our intensity level to play hard for him."

"I'm hoping eventually I can get to March and see those guys play. I'd love to be able to see them pull out the gold again."

- Matt Cook

Cook may not have been with the team last week, but he was following every game online, writing for the team's newsletter, and watching every second of Canada's overtime loss in the final to the rival Americans.

He didn't make the trip to Charlottetown because he's focused on getting better. Cook is looking for alternative therapies, despite the fact his doctors have told him to prepare for the worst, despite the fact that "half the medical field has given up on me," he said.

"They say it's going to be a pretty scary ride over the next few months, but the biggest thing for me is just trying to figure out something right now that can give me the chance at survival," he said. "With the medical field saying it's not worth pursuing anything, they just said, get your things in order, figure out what you're going to do when stuff starts to go bad.

"But you know, I don't really want to take that as an answer."

A former member of the Bonneyville Pontiacs, Cook is the first player with Junior A experience to make Canada's national sledge hockey team. Five months after he had lung surgery to beat cancer for the second time last year, he was named to the roster. He had only a year and a half of sledge experience under his belt.

"The players talk a lot about things they've learned from him," Snyder said. "Guys talk about how he came onto the team pretty fast, how hard he worked to try and improve himself as a player, how he really dedicated himself to being the best player that he could be."

"He's not with us right now, but everyone seems to be following in his footsteps and working harder in practice," Westlake added. "I definitely think we owe a lot of that to Matty."

But if you ask Cook, the national sledge hockey team has given him much more. The team and that Paralympic dream have been a driving force behind his positive attitude, "my reason to get out of bed and make something of my day during all the health setbacks," he said.

Even this latest one.

"For me, there's still a hope that somehow, some way, I'll be able to get back to the team. That's always in the back of your mind, is, you know, what can I do to hopefully make a comeback somehow. I've been clinging on to that," he said.

"If there's anything I can do to get there, I will make a point of doing that. When they told me, ‘You have three to six months left,' that would put me right before the Paralympics.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to fight until the end. I'm trying to stay upbeat and hope I can do something about this. I'm hoping eventually I can get to March and see those guys play.

"I'd love to be able to see them pull out the gold again."

Whether he's in Vancouver next year or not, Cook will be there in spirit as his team defends its Paralympic title. His jersey will be hanging in his regular spot in the dressing room, his bag, sitting in front, ready to go.

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