Authors: Pat LaFontaine,Ernie Valutis,Chas Griffin,Larry Weisman
COMPANIONS IN COURAGE
Copyright © 2001 by Pat LaFontaine. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic
or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher,
except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.
Hachette Book Group
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A hardcover edition of this book was published in 2001 by Warner Books.
First eBook Edition: January 2001
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To the children who have fought and are fighting battles for life and health. May your bravery and courageous spirit be an
inspiration to others as they have been to me.
To my companions who are no longer with us. Thank you for your courage, inspiration, and friendship.
With love and gratitude to my personal companions in life:
My best friend and wife, Marybeth.
My hat trick of inspiration, Sarah, Brianna, and Daniel.
Thank you for your love and support.
Sincere thanks to the LaFontaine and Hoey families and to the dear friends in the communities where I lived and played. A
special thank you to Donnie Meehan and Marianne “Mokey” McCarthy.
To Fred, the golden retriever we had and loved for ten years. Dog lovers everywhere will understand how we miss him.
To my literary companions:
This book could not have been written without the tremendous commitment and support of a great group of people. Heartfelt
thanks to my friends Chas Griffin and Dr. Ernie Valutis for your research, writing, and guidance. And many thanks to Rick
Wolff, Larry Weisman, and Dan Ambrosio for pulling the whole project together.
To Michael J. Fox, a true gentleman in every sense of the word. Special thanks for bringing your courageous spirit to this
I would also like to recognize the contributions of John LaFontaine Sr., Arthur Pincus, Jim Johnson, Laurie Widzinski, John
Rufer, Alan Kaufman, Warner Books, Inc., Newport Sports Management, Inc., and the National Hockey League Inc. and NHL Players’
Association and their Hockey’s All-Star Kids program.
Genuine appreciation to those professionals who helped keep my mind and body together during some tough times: Dr. James Kelly,
Dr. Jeffrey Minkoff, Dr. Ronald Petersen, Dr. Ernie Valutis, Steve Wirth, Chris Reichart, Kevin Cichocki, and Vladimir Anoufriev.
To each of the organizations I was associated with—New York Islanders, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, TEAM USA, and Verdun
Juniors—and the teammates, coaches, trainers, and the many great fans.
To those athletes who have a passion for their sport as well as for helping those in need.
To all the unknown stories of courage and spirit that have yet to be told.
I’ve known Pat LaFontaine for a long time. Like most hockey fans (and most of you know by now that I’ve been an avid hockey
player and fan all my life) I admired Pat for his remarkable abilities on the ice—he always knew how to put the puck in the
net or how to spot a teammate and feed him a perfect pass. But as much as I admired Pat for his athletic abilities, it wasn’t
until we had a chance to work together on an episode of
that I truly became impressed with Pat LaFontaine the human being.
We had asked Pat to make a cameo appearance on the show, and during the course of the shooting there was a scene in which
we had to skate on the ice together. Now this was a time when Pat was recuperating from a serious head concussion and I remember
thinking to myself, “Please, God, whatever I do, please don’t let me accidentally knock him down!” Fortunately, my skating
skills held up and Pat finished the scene with me flawlessly and, most importantly, not injured.
But it was during this time that I had a chance to get to know Pat LaFontaine well, and it was quickly apparent to me that
this was a man who wanted to give a lot more to this world than just goals and assists. Pat is one of those unique people
who just flat out cares about other people, and in today’s world of selfish, highly egocentric “What’s-in-it-for-me?” professional
athletes, Pat is truly a breath of fresh air.
Up to that point, I had always followed his career. But then I really focused on Pat when he was with the New York Rangers.
And when he was finally forced to retire after suffering from another collision on the ice, I sat down and wrote a heartfelt
note to him.
I remember the letter quite well, because it was meant to praise Pat and to urge him to keep going in life, no matter what
kinds of obstacles are thrown in his way. But in truth—and what only I knew at the time—I was really writing about my own
battle with Parkinson’s and, in effect, was trying to affirm my own beliefs in my competitive spirit to keep going. Pat’s
decision to retire and move on with his life was virtually setting the stage for my own upcoming personal battle.
That’s why the people in this book and their stories mean so much to me. For the most part, these are not athletes whom you
have heard of or athletes who have made fortunes from playing sports. Rather, these are rare individuals who have refused
to call it quits—even when everybody else has already written them off. To me, these athletes are the
champions in sports, and they deserve all the encouragement we can muster.
Let me tell you a secret: I can’t type. And no, it’s not because of the Parkinson’s. The truth is, I just can’t type. Never
learned how when I was a kid. So to get around this problem, I have a voice-activated computer that responds to my verbal
instructions and then instantly prints my words on the computer screen. When I sat down to write this foreword, the first
words that I uttered were “Companions in Courage.”
When I looked at the screen, the computer printed the following:
“Companions … Encourage.”
And I thought to myself, “What a most appropriate rewrite!”
You see, it’s my experience in life that there are people who worry about getting the job done, and then there are those who
just put the worries aside and get the job done. This book,
Companions in Courage
, focuses squarely on those athletes who just get it done.
In short, they represent the very best when it comes to the spirit of true athletic competition. Thank you, Pat LaFontaine,
for sharing their stories with us all.
Michael J. Fox
We all live within a story. Our lives unfold as we experience each day, as we deal with what life serves. I am learning how
to handle life’s setbacks, those challenges that push us all beyond our limits and beneath the surface of life.
When my world as a professional athlete began to fall apart, I did not have the tools to deal effectively with what was happening
to me. But as I started to listen to my circumstances, I began to learn from them. In the process I found a place of understanding
and healing, a place where I could become a friend to myself and to others.
I discovered that there is a creative flow and rhythm that exists beneath the surface reality of life. Before my setbacks
got my attention, the only freedom and flow I understood was on the surface of the ice as a professional athlete. Ironically,
that other place beneath the ice was what I had always avoided—it seemed that the only way to get there was through my pain.
I began to realize that I don’t have to be defined by what happens to me, that I can learn to manage my circumstances instead
of being controlled by them.
My Companions in Courage have taught me important lessons. I’ve come to understand that courage comes in many forms. I’ve
seen small children fighting for their lives against cancer. I know teenagers and grown-ups who have survived all manner of
disease and affliction and fought their wars with dignity. I know those who have felt and conquered the sting of racism and
I want to share these lessons in the hope that this book will be your companion, that it will help you find that safe place
beneath the surface of your life so that you can become your own friend and cultivate the courage it takes to manage life’s
twists and turns.
No, it’s not easy. There’s a complexity to the textures of the pattern of your life. For me, working with challenged children
in hospital wards, tasting fame and fortune, feeling the helpless grief of tragedy, and knowing life’s joys and sorrows make
for a depth I can only hope to understand.
These experiences have taught me that we are all companions who are learning to be courageous, learning to transcend life’s
harsh moments in order to write our own story. I believe that what happens to each of us—what pushes us past normal existence—is
what helps us find the positive, limitless purity that makes each of us who we are. Learning to bring the two sides of life
together helps us open a creative personal rhythm that gives meaning and purpose to whatever life lays before us.
Each person who has crossed my path or whose story has come to my attention possesses a beauty and strength that has been
a gift to me. Each is a spontaneous example of our life force in motion. This book will share my story, the stories of other
athletes, and the powerful lessons we can all learn from.
These people have become my Companions in Courage, and they’re the heart of this book. Some enjoy fame and popularity and
wide acclaim, in stadiums and arenas and on television. Others will come to you as strangers but will become friends, mentors,
guides. Their acts of personal courage occur in the toughest arena of all—everyday life. Often, we see only the achievements,
not the difficulties faced and overcome in their pursuit. In
Companions in Courage
I will tell those stories because these folks figure so deeply in my relationship with life’s daily issues.
I want you to feel the inspiration and admiration I did, to grab on to that uplifting strength and dignity and turn its power
inward. I want adults and children who face challenges and obstacles in their hectic existences to know they’re not alone,
that others have also fought battles (and worse) and showed they can be won.