How One Brave Kid, a Volunteer and a Sabre Brightened Today

It’s fair and sad to say that I’ve had a cynical year; Since approximately June of 2011 I’ve struggled to find and believe in a lot of good things and that runs in the exact wrong direction of the person I’d like to become. For the first time in a long time, I’ve struggled to adapt to new surroundings and demands. It’s a gut-socker, so the moments that pick me up — outside of time spent with my family — are ones I’ve learned to embrace.

Early Saturday evening, I received an emotional reminder of how easy it is to make a major difference in the life of someone else.

There’s a soccer official I see rather often at Sahlen’s Sports Park named Scot Boniface. He runs the Buffalo group for TOPSoccer, a branch of US Youth Soccer aimed at providing a fun environment for children with mental or physical disabilities to enjoy an active time with the beautiful game.

TOPSoccer kids in Western New York

Mindlessly walking back to my office, I passed between Scot and a few people talking with a young player named Chris. Something about their tone of voice gave me pause, so I stopped and watched as a volunteer named Gina unveiled something to Chris.

See, last week was the first for TOPSoccer and Gina had been paired with young Chris. He told her he wanted to play goalie and asked her take some shots on him. At one point, a shot jumped up and caught him in the mug, breaking his glasses. Gina was worried, but Chris didn’t complain. He simply explained to her that he was blind in one eye and happy he made the save so he could be “the Ryan Miller of soccer.”

Shoot back to this evening as Gina told the young boy how much he inspired her and what a great kid he’s been. Chris looked a little confused and his parents watched as Gina pulled a letter out of a large white envelope labeled, “To Chris, the Ryan Miller of soccer.”

The letter began, “Dear Chris…” and ran off a number of encouraging words for the lad. At the end of the note, Chris’ eyes lit up as he heard the phrase, “Sincerely, Ryan Miller” and it was revealed to have come from the Sabres netminder’s Steadfast Foundation.

Chris and his TOPSoccer friends

Then, a signed puck was presented to Chris and he burst into tears — I mean, big honking joyful ones — and the kid couldn’t stop hugging his mom. His favorite hockey player knew about him and wanted to say, “Hello!” Chris wasn’t the only one sans dry eyes and I’m tearing up reliving the moment right now.

I don’t know the various obstacles Chris and his family have to overcome every day — I may have a reporter’s background, but I chose to shake Chris’ hand and tell him he must be someone special rather than quiz his family — but I know it didn’t take long for Miller to do what he did. Certainly less than the volunteer who had to tell Chris’ story to the Steadfast Foundation, but it’s not worth lauding any less.

Moments like this aren’t about us, but it was a wonderful reminder of how impactful we can be, whether we’re Vezina-winning goaltenders like Miller, gracious volunteers like or mediocre tournament-organizers like me. We all get older. A lot of us see our friends less. Some of us often have to work a whole lot more than we should. Many of us would be happy to work at all.

But we never lose the chance to make a difference. Thanks to Chris, and Ryan for the reminder. Happy Easter, everybody.

EDIT: The following photos from the letter reading were sent to me.

Email: nick@fcbuffalo.org

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