Campus Life

Horns play with greater purpose

Erica Williams’s father Len was able to get out of bed and go for a walk the other morning. For that, his daughter was thankful – it was a good day.

Since being diagnosed with terminal cancer in April, the good days have dwindled for Len, and likewise for his daughter, a fourth-year forward for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s hockey team. That has not dissuaded Erica from pushing forward with a positive attitude culled from the example her father displayed throughout her childhood in Weyburn, Sask.

Erica Williams has taken a positive approach as she deals with her parents' illnesses.

“I obviously don’t know what he’s feeling right now but I can understand that he wants to be his best for his family so he’s decided not to do any more chemotherapy treatments and is just focusing on the quality of his days,” she says. “I think that’s pretty courageous, but he’s a pretty brave guy so I wouldn’t expect anything less from him.

“There are days where I’m sure he’d want to just lay in bed but he still manages to get in the car and come out here to Lethbridge and spend some time with me for a couple days – that’s just who he is.”

Williams and her teammates will have Len on their minds this weekend when they take on the University of Saskatchewan Huskies for a pair of Canada West games at Nicholas Sheran Arena (the puck drops at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday night). The entire weekend will double as a fundraising effort for the Len Williams Coaching Legacy Fund and the Jack Ady Cancer Centre.

“I couldn’t imagine,” says Erica, her voice cracking, “being on a different team because they have all been so supportive, everyone has done their best for this.”

Williams is self-described as “pretty loud”, an outgoing personality, but that has all changed since the phone call she received late one evening in April.

“I’d talked to my mom beforehand about the tests my dad was getting and we’d broken it down into option one, two and three, with three being the worst-case scenario where they had found cancer everywhere,” says Erica. “When she called, all she said was “It’s option 3” and I had to end the call and cry it out.”

Four days later, Erica returned to Weyburn, having postponed her finals to be with her family. The night she arrived home, her mother suffered a stroke, further compounding the family’s troubles.

After an extensive hospital stay, her mother is recovering, and Erica says the family had a very good summer. Her father was able to take part in a number of community events in support of the legacy fund established in his name, and reconnected with countless people he’d influenced as a coach and prominent Weyburn citizen.

For Erica, getting back to school and playing hockey was an important aspect of returning some normalcy to her life. Now in her fourth year, she is readying to graduate with a double major in psychology and sociology. She has already applied to graduate school at the U of L, looking to get her master’s of counseling in psychology or, as a back-up plan, apply to the social work program.

“As every day goes by I think about what was good that day,” she says about how her philosophy on life has been affected by her parents’ illnesses.

The support she receives from her teammates has been invaluable.

“There are a lot of times when nothing is said but nothing needs to be said. They’ll just come up to me and give me a pat on the back because they know what I’m going through and I know what it means,” she says. “We don’t talk about it but we don’t need to. They are so understanding – it’s hard to put into words.”

The weekend’s activities will include a raffle and silent auction, as well as a jersey auction of the special periwinkle-coloured jerseys the Horns will wear against the Huskies.

Over the summer, Williams and her family raised in excess of $65,000 for the legacy fund, helped in no small part by the contributions of her famous uncle, Dave ‘Tiger’ Williams. The former Toronto Maple Leaf great was able to use his hockey connections to bring in a number of items for auction, including two tickets to any Leafs game this season in the Alumni Box, a gift that netted $16,000 at auction.

This weekend, a Taylor Hall signed jersey, four lower bowl tickets to a Calgary Flames game, gift baskets and more will be up for grabs at Nicholas Sheran Arena.

Len Williams won’t be able to attend but he’ll no doubt be on everyone’s mind. His daughter wants the weekend to be a celebration of everything her father represents.

“My dad got to go for a walk yesterday morning, and even though he wasn’t feeling that good, he got to go for a walk,” says Erica. “That was something to celebrate.”