On Thursday night, the Barrie Bulldogs honoured one of their teammates with a jersey retirement and a physically distanced game of ball hockey.
James Gallant — known as 'OJ' to his teammates — was surprised with a game of pick-up ball hockey and his team giving him his jersey, already framed and ready to be hung up.
Gallant is suffering from gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), a terminal form of cancer. His team rented out a rink at the Barrie Ball Hockey Club to honour him.
Gallant and his wife showed up to find his teammates tapping the ground in honour of No. 13.
Gallant was diagnosed in January 2019, but was forced to stop playing before that.
A winded Gallant came off the floor from his second shift and talked to BarrieToday. Having played with the Bulldogs for 10 years, he said his last game was April 20, 2018, and he was happy he wasn’t the only guy having a hard time getting going.
“I stopped after a major concussion, as that sidelined me first. Then, afterwards, I found out I had the cancer and playing stopped,” said the 52-year-old Gallant.
“I thought I’d be the only guy out of breath, with having cancer, but I think everyone is not used to playing as there is a lot of heavy breathing going on," he added.
The ball-hockey venue on Ferndale Drive has been open to rentals since June 22 after being shut down for the COVID-19 health crisis.
Gallant pointed to his heart and tried to hold back his emotions when asked what the team's gesture meant to him.
“This really is something special. They didn't have to do this, but it is nice they did," he said.
Gallant, who previously worked at Lake Simcoe Public School, said it was his students who kept him upbeat at the start of his diagnosis.
“I worked with special-needs kids and once my bosses found out I had terminal cancer, they said I was done and to rest,” he said. “I have been invited in, though, to keep my spirits up and the parents enjoyed how close I was with their kids.”
Gallant is receiving experimental treatments at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
His wife, Angela, said the ball-hockey moment was a long time coming.
“This night was originally going to take place on his birthday (April 1), but COVID stopped that,” she said.
“This is just awesome," Angela added. "He’s been playing with the team for years now and he has become so close to many of the guys. He will be touched by this. We all are.”
The team had had a commemorative patch put on their jerseys, but had T-shirts on for Thursday’s game to keep cool.
Gallant’s jersey had a patch sewn on before being placed in the frame and case.
The team says no one will ever wear No. 13 again for the Bulldogs, now in their 25th year.
Despite his terminal disease, Gallant remains as upbeat as he can. And although he admits his family and friends are having a hard time with it, he refuses to stop being positive.
“Cancer doesn’t control me, I control it. I tell others who are going through what I’m going through to not let cancer define who they are; live everyday,” Gallant said.
“I was asked by a social worker how I felt about dying. I told her everybody dies once; it's how you choose to live your life each and every day.”