Six-year-old Hailey Ell is one of Columbus’s littlest heroes. She is a patient at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and also one of the Columbus Blue Jackets pediatric cancer heroes. The day before a December photo shoot with the Jackets, a special part of preparations leading up to the "Blue Jackets Black Tie Style Show" in February, Hailey had her very last cancer treatment.
The photo shoot marked the beginning of her recovery celebrations.
"(The photo shoot) is really cool," said Jim Ell, Hailey’s father. "After all of this we’ll head home tonight and continue the celebrations with friends and family."
While the Blue Jackets are in the business of hockey, the photo shoot was about a lot more. A hockey game lasts a few hours, but a photo lasts forever. The Jackets once again teamed up with "Flashes of Hope" this year to take photographs of players and pediatric cancer heroes as part of events leading up to the Feb. 25 Style Show. Photos will be featured at the event and every hero receives an album of their pictures.
"I think (having these photos) will remind us of the love and support people have shown us," said Tyler Lyon, father of pediatric hero, Maggie. "We’ll never forget this time; but, just seeing all the people who were there as we went through this will mean so much."
Maggie was diagnosed with a type of kidney cancer three days after her fifth birthday in 2012. She underwent six months of treatment. The cancer came back four weeks later and she had been in treatment ever since until a month ago when she was finally able to ring the bell at Nationwide Children’s Hospital — signifying her treatment was complete.
"All of this is really neat," Lyon said. "The circumstances weren’t ideal but all these people who do special things — it gives us something to look forward to."
Finding highlights and memorable moments to look forward to during a trying time is exactly what the Jackets hope to do.
"You don’t always get the full story, but you can tell these kids have been through some stuff," said Jackets forward Derek MacKenzie, who posed for photos with three heroes. "Sometimes it’s tough to get a smile, but, when you do, it means a lot."
The Blue Jackets Foundation coordinates events like this photo shoot throughout the year for their pediatric heroes.
Blue Jackets winger Cam Atkinson gets a hug from CBJ hero Austin Schwaderer.
"With our schedule you don’t always get to see where money goes or who it’s affecting," MacKenzie said. "This is a great opportunity to meet the heroes, say hello and ask questions. Sometimes they get tickets to games — but it’s nice to spend some time together. It really helps us maintain perspective."
While the ultimate goal is to support the pediatric heroes and their families, it also produces some young hockey fans.
Hero Emily June knew nothing about hockey or the team before the players came to Children’s Hospital for a visit earlier in the year. Now she follows the team on Instagram and watches games when she can.
"My favorite players are Ryan Murray and Ryan Johansen," June said. "It was pretty cool I got to take pictures with (Murray)."
Hailey also has a newfound interest in the game. "Hailey really enjoyed the game she went to — she may have found the sport she likes," her father said.
The players enjoyed taking the photos as much as the Heroes, including Jackets forward Ryan Johansen, who acknowledged he got upstaged by Hailey during their session together.
"Spending time with these kids is very important," Johansen said. "The kids were so cute — they had big smiles on their faces. They were definitely the better looking ones in the photos today."
Johansen is one of many players who has attended multiple events with the Heroes. He looks forward to growing the relationships they are building and hopes the photos from this event mark a highlight in each child’s journey.
"Down the road, when they are older and look back on what they had to go through, hopefully they see this as a bright spot," Johansen said. "You build relationships and carry those on for a while — we want this to help capture a memory for them."
In addition to the photo shoots, the Heroes played games with the players, toured Nationwide Arena, and visited the team benches and the cannon. It was a day when children and families fighting so much, could have a few moments of happiness.
"(The photos) help remember the moment for sure," Ell said. "It’s pretty neat. It will be more special to (Hailey) the older she gets and she’ll have something to look back on and associate the time frame with. It will make it significant."
You can see more of the "Flashes of Hope" exhibit, and watch the pediatric Heroes walk the "Blue Jackets Black Tie Style Show" stage by purchasing tickets here: http://www.bluejacketsfoundation.org.
The Blue Jackets next home game is Monday, Jan. 13, against the Tampa Bay Lightning. For more information or to buy tickets for the 7 p.m. game, visit bluejackets.nhl.com.