By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Marian E. Zeh Elementary School second-grader Liam Fitzgerald became an overnight sensation when a video of him fist-bumping Boston Bruins players as they skated off the ice after their pre-game warmup went viral. The video has logged more than 4.5 million hits so far.
To say that 8-year-old Liam is “Boston Strong” is an understatement. Liam was born with Down syndrome in 2006 and diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2009. After undergoing four years of treatment, Liam is cancer-free. Through it all, said his mother Christine, he kept on smiling.
“I would say that having cancer made Liam stronger and much more capable of handling whatever comes his way,” Christine said. “As for our family, it brought us all much closer together. We grew stronger, learned what was important in life, and began spending more time enjoying things together. And just like having Down syndrome opened up our world to wonderful groups of people we would have never met, so did cancer bring people into our lives that we cherish and have enriched our lives. It wasn’t easy to go through – and especially to watch Liam go through – but a lot of good came from something that could be so bad.”
Liam has a deep affection for Boston sports. In 2010 his obsession with playing knee hockey in the house translated into a love for all things hockey – particularly the Bruins. In 2011 Liam attended his first Bruins game with Why Me and Sherry’s House via an invitation from Brad’s Brigade (Bruin’s player Brad Marchand’s foundation). After the game he met Marchand in person.
Ever the Bruins fan, Liam dressed up as defenseman Adam McQuaid for Halloween in 2013. After his mother posted a picture of him on Twitter – a picture which was seen by McQuaid’s sister and shared with McQuaid – he was invited to another upcoming Bruins game and had the chance to meet the Bruins Ice Girls, mascot Blades the bear, and players Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, Johnny Boychuk and Shawn Thornton. According to Christine, it was an unforgettable night. On St. Patrick’s Day this year, Liam was invited to sit in Bergeron’s suite, Patrice’s Pals, and to meet the players following the game.
Liam’s love for the Bruins led to a personal invitation from Kerry Collins, community relations manager for the Bruins, to watch the Bs face off against the Florida Panthers Nov.4. Prior to the game, Collins invited Liam to sit on the bench during warm-ups so he could see the players up close and personal – and the rest is YouTube history.
According to Maureen Gallagher, executive director of the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC), Liam and his family exemplify the MDSC’s theme for 2014, “Champions.”
“We try to do as much as possible for Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress – although I never think it is enough,” said Christine, who has worked with the MDSC communications staff to help promote events and raise awareness. Her husband, Bill, has been asked to participate on the MDSC Board this year.
On Sunday, Nov. 23, the MDSC All-Stars will be sharpening their skates to face off against the Boston Bruins Alumni to benefit people with Down syndrome. The 10th annual Hockey Benefit Game will take place at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough beginning at noon. This family-friendly event includes a free skate for novice and expert skaters alike, a meet-and-greet with Bruins legends, a silent auction and raffle. It all culminates with an action-packed game.
Anyone who pre-registers for a MDSC Buddy Walk or who wears a hockey jersey to the game (school or Bruins) may attend the event for free.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.mdsc.kintera.org/hockey2014.
Liam’s video can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ5uaesvr7I.