What a legacy.
In his all-too-short time, Oliver Smith touched countless lives – providing a shining example of what it truly means to give, persevere and be brave.
The Antigonish County youngster, who battled Ewing Sarcoma – a rare childhood bone cancer – died June 27, one day after his 12th birthday.
There are no words to explain the loss of someone so young, with his whole life ahead of him. There is nothing that can really be said to his family and friends that will ease the pain, so I am not going to try.
What I can do is reflect on my memorable moments with Oliver, ones I will never, ever forget; times that have changed my life.
My first visit to the Smith household came in late 2017, when I was working on a story about OllieBots, the wooden robots he and his father, Bryan, were making in the family garage.
What started as a way for the father-son duo to spend time together – outside their love for sports, especially hockey – had exploded into an ever-growing fundraiser in support of not only Ewing Sarcoma research, but also local families dealing with cancer.
Hundreds of the googly-eyed toys – made up of six wooden blocks that become the head, body, arms and legs, which are connected, fittingly, by hockey skate laces – have been sold, with thousands of dollars collected for the worthy causes.
On that day, it took a while for Oliver to join his father and mother, Shauna, in the living room for our conversation. (I couldn’t really blame him – I would want to stay in my bedroom rather than talk to me.)
Of course, there was no malice in his delay in joining us; just a boy shy about talking with a stranger. But, as the conversation continued, Oliver opened up – more and more – about how much his friends loved OllieBots and how much he enjoyed making them.
As for his favourite, a smile swept across his face as he described the one emblazoned with a Toronto Maple Leafs’ decal (each OllieBot has one of some sort on its heart).
He proudly informed me that the family sent one to his hockey idol – Mitch Marner of the Leafs – not to mention the likes of Don Cherry and Hayley Wickenheiser.
Oliver and his parents also talked about how the initiative involved the whole family, including his older sisters – Emma and Megan. Their traditional pizza and movie nights often had morphed into a makeshift OllieBot assembly line.
Everyone also made sure to thank friends, family, teams and other supporters who pitched in for the fundraiser.
When I returned to the office that day, I remember thinking that this was a great story; one I had to share with our readers – not only to introduce them to this amazing boy and his family, but also to get word out about OllieBots and, maybe, help boost sales.
I am not sure how much that first piece helped with the latter, but I like to think it did something.
Beyond what I will call the professional lens through which I saw that encounter, it touched me even more on a personal level.
I marvelled at the strength of the Smith family, especially Oliver, considering what they were facing.
And, of course, I asked ‘why’ was this happening to them – or any family – a question for which I still have no answer.
Over the following weeks and months, I would meet Oliver on occasion; not surprisingly, most often at the rink, especially for St. F.X. X-Women and X-Men games.
By early 2019, I had heard the OllieBots’ project had reached several milestones, including eclipsing more than $20,000 in sales.
It was time for another visit with Oliver and his family.
By then, OllieBots had started making their way around the world, with many recipients taking them on their adventures, while the celebrity list of recipients continued to mushroom.
I remember how Bryan described the evolution of the initiative.
“It has become so much more than just a block of wood,” he said.
Our living room reunion, of sorts, included the realization that cancer remained part of their lives, with Oliver having experienced two recurrences of the disease since his initial diagnosis.
His treatments over that time included a visit to the world-famous Cleveland Clinic, where Oliver received cutting-edge cryotherapy treatment.
As part of his recovery, Oliver was using crutches, one of the reasons he was unable to skate with his Antigonish Pee Wee ‘AAA’ Bulldogs’ teammates.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t part of the team; he faithfully attended practices and made road trips with the team, while providing unwavering support and inspiration.
Oliver provided those same intangibles to the X-Men as they travelled the playoff road to the U Sports’ national championship tournament in Lethbridge, Alberta, in the spring.
The last time I ‘saw’ Oliver, while home on vacation a few weeks ago in Cape Breton, came while watching the Stanley Cup playoffs. During one of his Coach’s Corner segments, as most of you know, Cherry honoured the OllieBots’ creator for his passion for the game and bravery.
When they played Oliver’s fiery locker room speech to the X-Men during the nationals, I had goosebumps and so much happiness for the much-deserved recognition.
Those feelings also included sadness, having heard in previous days that Oliver’s health was deteriorating.
When I think of him, I remember the signature ‘O’ found on each OllieBot, one tattooed in the general area where a person’s left hip would be, the spot where doctors found his cancer.
That, for me, symbolizes the indelible mark that Oliver has left on my life.
I know that so many of you feel the same way.