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MADE HARDIE: A SON'S STORY OF HIS MOTHER'S JOURNEY

Friday, February 16th
MADE HARDIE: A SON'S STORY OF HIS MOTHER'S JOURNEY

With every brush stroke during the annual Paint the Ice event in Rapid City, stories that faded vividly return to life. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings… names scrawled out beautifully create a meaningful mosaic that shows cancer, sadly, affects us all.

In the Rapid City Rush locker room, on his left arm, James Hardie has a more personal masterpiece, a tattoo that serves as his reminder of how cancer has affected his family.

Hardie was playing AAA hockey, an OHL standout in the making, when a diagnosis was discovered at the kitchen table.

Through tears, James' mother, Sonia, told her family she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. While the Hardie family was shaken at the report, the family rallied for Sonia and joined on as her linemates for the treacherous journey of treatment.

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"She came out and told us, and I didn't really know what was going on cause I was so young," said Hardie, "but I saw the way it affected my dad and my sister and that's what really affected me."

Hardie put up 70 points in Barrie that season and would become the eighth overall selection in the OHL draft at season's end. However, statistics of cell counts and life expectancy quickly became headline news over goals and assists.

"When she started doing chemo and radiation at the hospital, that's when it really hit me," said Hardie.

The Hardie family is a hockey family. James played for his father, Steve, growing up and Sonia was the one to keep the hockey in its place.

"My mom was always in the crowd and she's wearing my jersey, and she did everything she could to be there for me," smiled Hardie, a rookie in his first ECHL season.

In late 2017, it was Hardie who had to be there for his mother.

"I was always asking his questions like how she was doing or how she was feeling," said Hardie. "She was always having to go to the hospital and you know the hospital isn't a place you want to be."

During Sonia's fight, Hardie continued his masterful play, leading his team in scoring throughout the year. Hardie outpaced current Philadelphia Flyer Tyson Foerster, who became a first-round NHL draft pick in 2020.

"Hockey was kind of an escape for me," said Hardie. "I could go to the arena and just focus on hockey, but if I needed my teammates they were there for me."

His teammates and coaches in Barrie were there in a big way in the middle of the season, organizing a Breast Cancer Awareness game in honor of Sonia's fight. However, while planning, there was one person who wouldn't be in the crowd that night.

Sonia's doctors had prepared the Hardie family for a surgical procedure the morning of the game, one that doctors hoped could clear out most of the cancerous tissue.

"Cancer is just such a serious and such a scary thing, you know, anything can go wrong at any time," said Hardie.

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Without knowing whether Sonia would make it to the game meant to honor her fight, her son took the ice. Like he had all season long, Hardie scored and turned to the glass to see a familiar face smiling at her favorite Colt. It was his mom.

"Just seeing that she had made it there, and she probably wasn't supposed to," said Hardie, pausing to revisit the moment.

The Canadian kid who has since scored a pro hat trick and ended a double-overtime marathon last season, had no hesitation when ranking his best goal.

"That one's at the top," said Hardie, "just seeing her smile when that puck went in the net – that's something I'll never forget for sure."

Hardie's production slotted him as the eighth overall selection for Mississauga in the 2018 OHL draft. Fighting alongside his mother, Hardie flourished on the ice with 63 points in 59 games during his first year of major juniors.

Despite chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and constant hospital visits – Sonia also flourished, finishing her treatments while James was in Mississauga.

"I got videos and FaceTimes of her ringing the bell that she was done with her treatments and I just kinda broke down in tears," said Hardie.

Sonia continued to battle to get her life back on course in the wake of her cancer diagnosis and was even able to make it to Mississauga for a ceremonial puck drop during the Steelheads Pink in the Rink night.

Now cancer-free and a survivor, you can still see her supporting her son at games in Rapid City.

"I'm always so lucky to have her up there," said Hardie. "My parents were here for my first goal and they've been here for almost every goal I've scored this season."

The bond of mother and son is one not easily broken and for the Hardie family, fortunately, not even cancer could sever Sonia and James. They know it's not the same fate for everyone.

"I think it's on me to be a guy who can be there for someone going through something similar," said James. "I want to be the guy who can be there for them."

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Wherever he's been in his hockey life, James Hardie has always been the guy who can score goals. Every time he rolls up his left sleeve, he gets motivation from the tattoo of a pink ribbon wrapped in a floral bouquet.

"My mom has always let it never go away, she wants me to talk about it and make people aware about it. She's very vocal," said Hardie.

So is Hardie, telling his mom's story in the hope that it inspires someone who needs to hear it. But it's a story that ends with one boy's message to his mom.

"But could you add in at the end, something like, I'm proud of you mom – I love you."

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