Woodland Park cancer survivor's enthusiasm and love for hockey never wavers

May 26, 2013 Updated: May 27, 2013 at 12:20 pm
photo - Photo by Junfu Han, The Gazette
Photo by Junfu Han, The Gazette 

WOODLAND PARK -- Amity and Steve Niles have their boy back.

If there was any doubt, 11-year-old Garrett squashed it when he scored the game-winning goal to give his youth hockey team, the Woodland Park Terminators, the division title in their peewee B league.

That the goal came on March 10 as the family readied to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his final chemotherapy session March 21, 2012 made it all the sweeter.

"A lot of tears were shed," Steve said. "It was such a long, miserable road but when he scored, it felt like it finally came to an end. He was back being the kid he was before he got sick."

Garrett was diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma when a lump was found in his neck Nov. 9, 2011. More lumps were found in his abdomen, forcing numerous chemotherapy sessions that sapped the boy's strength, if not his enthusiasm for playing hockey.

He never quit playing; only missing ice time when sickened by chemotherapy.

"It helped keep him in a good mood," teammate Chayse Heffler, 12, said. "He's always encouraging, even when we are down."

"I just wanted to keep playing hockey," Garrett said. "I think it helped me get better."

His friend agreed.

"It was very important to him," teammate Colton Hudson, 12, said. "All his friends are in hockey. It's his life."

It took time, but he started playing like the same standout he was before the diagnosis.

"Around February was when his strength started to come back," coach Brian Kane said. "He was our team MVP in the playoffs and the No. 1 star in every game."

The city and the area's hockey community rallied around the boy by donating money so Amity could take time off work, providing meals and offering to help.

"It's stressful enough without worrying about money and missing work," said Amity, who works for Triple Crown Casinos in Cripple Creek. "The community was so supportive and my employer made sure I had the time off I needed to stay home after his chemo. Everyone was willing to do anything we needed."

Garrett was also embraced by the Colorado College hockey team who joined in the "Going Bald for Garrett" fundraiser, which drew 1,000 people, to show their support and continued to do so by attending a Terminators game at World Arena. Both instances mean a lot to the boy.

"It was amazing," he said.

Garrett and graduated goalie Joe Howe still stay in touch via Facebook.

"I am really glad to hear he's doing well," Howe said recently. "He's quite the little hockey player."

The sick, bald boy is now a healthy one with a mane of curls since the chemo. He died his hair orange to show support for a Woodland Park girl diagnosed with leukemia last fall.

Garrett is Amity's and Steve's boy from before the illness, maybe a little wiser.

"I wouldn't have done that before getting sick," he said. "I haven't had a chance to talk to her but I felt I needed to show my support like so many others did for me."

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