All-Star Game a wish come true for one hockey fan
With the NHL All-Star Game having come to Columbus this past weekend, it’s easy to imagine many wishes were granted. A city was granted the wish to host the event. Fans were granted the wish to meet their favorite players. Athletes were granted the wish to be named an All-Star. But perhaps no wish granted was more significant than the one fulfilled for New Jersey’s Alex Zelikovsky.
Alex, who will be 14 in February, was born premature and is fighting a life-threatening neurological condition. He is a quadriplegic and non-verbal. But Alex finds joy in hockey, so the Make-A-Wish foundation decided to fulfill his wish to attend an NHL All-Star Game.
"Alex loves hockey. He has always has loved hockey," said Alex’s mom, Jamie. "We take him to many Devils games and travel for other games as we can. When we realized the All-Star Game was in Columbus, it was a perfect fit for Alex — all of our favorite players playing in one spot at the same time."
The request was one that Make-A-Wish was happy to fulfill. The organization grants opportunities for children who meet very specific criteria to have a special experience that is their own dream or goal. John Hykes, development officer for the Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana chapter said that when the New Jersey chapter contacted him about Alex, they immediately got to work.
"We are one of 62 chapters across the country," Hykes said. "We all have the same goal that whenever we can work together to put a smile on a kid’s face that’s what we’re going to do."
Alex’s wish had been to just attend the All-Star Game, but the Blue Jackets, the Blue Jackets Foundation and the NHL decided to bring more to the experience. The Zelikovskys received a heroes’ welcome at the Columbus airport, and Alex received a bag full of autographed gear from Jackets All-Stars Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno and Sergei Bobrovsky.
"We do this because we have a unique ability to be bring hope, strength, and joy back to a kids life," Hykes said. "These are kids who live in a climate of ‘no.’ They are often told no to sleepovers, no to vacations because so many things become obstacles and they get in the way –we’re in a position to say yes. To say ‘yes Alex, you can come to an All-Star Game.’"
The NHL also provided a hotel room, tickets to Fan Fair, Winter Park activities, the All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday and some VIP events surrounding the weekend. But the highlight came from a private meet and greet for Alex, his two brothers, and his parents with the All-Star players on Saturday.
"Words can’t even describe the experience of not only meeting one player but every single player," Jamie said. "I just want to say thank you to the players. They were unbelievably kind and caring to Alex, a lot of them got down on their knees to talk to him."
One of the first players they met was New Jersey Devil forward, Patrick Elias. As the representative from Alex’s hometown team, Elias was honored to spend a few minutes with the family.
"It’s tremendous to see what this kid goes through and the battle he has to deal with in his life," Elias said. "And it’s not just him but his family that is affected. They were soaking things in and very happy to be around this whole event. I’m privileged that I could just meet this gentleman and hopefully put a smile on his face."
Elias definitely helped make Alex’s day. And the impact is one that will hopefully not only be felt this weekend but long term. Hykes said that follow-up surveys done by Make-A-Wish show that these experiences have a positive impact on the recipients — giving them something significant to look forward to, or find motivation in, as they go through treatment regimes.
"We are just so grateful," Jamie said. "Living with someone who has a lot of physical disabilities and is in a wheelchair, sometimes you stumble on a lot of roadblocks. To have Make-A-Wish and the NHL take it above anything we could have ever wished for, it’s a great feeling as a mom to see Alex so happy."
In addition to Elias, Jamie said Alex was excited to meet Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, Capitals captain Alexander Ovechkin, and the hometown Blue Jackets players.
"I’ve never had the opportunity to meet someone on that level of success as a professional athlete," Jamie said. "To see them be so kind and gentle and literally get on their knees to say hello or rub his arm – they are just the warmest, nicest group of people. To have every single player meet our son is really a dream come true."
As the family now returns home, they will travel with souvenirs, but more importantly memories of what they called a wonderful weekend in a really nice city with unbelievably friendly and helpful people.
"When we go home we’ll put these photos together," Jamie said. "We’ll be able to look back on them and relive these moments and it will bring us so much joy."