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Community rallies behind quintessential hockey mom with terminal cancer

For Danielle Dwinnell and Travis Granbois, hockey is not only a sport. It is a way of life, a passion and a force that pulls communities together and teaches kids important life skills.

The siblings, who grew up in Gold River and Campbell River, cannot remember a time when hockey was not central to their daily lives. It began as children, with their dad putting them in skates at the earliest chance.

“It was huge. There are videos of us, we’d just learned to walk, and we were in skates already,” said Dwinnell. “Our dad was big on letting us walk on the carpet in our skates, making sure our ankles formed to them.”

While living in Gold River, their father was a millwright at the local mill and coached their hockey team, travelling to nearby Campbell River for games.

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After moving to Campbell River in the late 1990s, the hockey lifestyle continued and Granbois started a career as a professional hockey player. He played for the Campbell River Storm and then in the United Hockey League for many years as well as in Europe before finally returning home to Campbell River.

Dwinnell would graduate high school and move away from her home city. However, her passion for the game would stick too. A mother of four and quintessential hockey mom, she was involved in her children’s hockey lives in more ways than one and got a surreal glimpse into how hockey can shape other’s lives.

“I started off coaching them, and that was quite an amazing adventure. There was one little girl on our team, she really looked up to me,” she said. “I don’t think my kids liked it as much because I had to tell them what socks to wear in the morning and then what to do on the ice.

“As a female coach, I had a lot of the kids that didn’t want to skate, so they pleaded to me a lot about how their feet hurt or that this wasn’t fit right, and they wanted hugs. It was different. The male coaches didn’t get the same relationship with the four-year-olds as I got to have.”

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Once the kids got older, Dwinnell would transition over to managing hockey teams and taking kids all over Alberta for games.

“My truck was always full, and Nickelback was always blaring on the radio,” she says, laughing.

Dwinnell says she was able to watch young children grow into more confident people, whether that meant dealing with bullying in the dressing room or watching them learn skills to become more capable and become leaders, friends and mentors.

It’s a feeling that is like no other for her as a coach and as a mother.

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“I’m immensely proud. It brings me to tears just to see them flourish and overcome their own challenges,” said Danielle. “It’s very much one of the biggest blessings of my life.”

It’s these memories and feelings that have propelled her forward through the years, staying involved in the local hockey scene and the community.

However, Danielle was recently diagnosed with terminal colon cancer, and the community is hoping to help her spend her days with her family before her time comes.

A fundraiser will be held at the Eagles Hall in Campbell River on Friday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. It will feature a burger and beer dinner, silent auction with many local donors and hockey games up for bidding, and a music production opportunity with Brian Howes of the Comox Valley, a Grammy and Juno award-winning artist who has produced many hit songs for popular artists.

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The outpouring of support has been overwhelming for Dwinnell and Granbois, who say it really puts the significance of hockey into perspective: its community.

“It really takes a community to raise a child, and I think that’s how we’ve been brought up,” said Dwinnell. “I woke up a few weeks ago to 380 messages in my messenger. The outpouring of love and support has just been remarkable.

“I keep feeling like Horton Hears a Who. I just felt like I existed in this world and then somebody stopped and realized and looked inside the speck and the speck has a whole community inside them.”

Dwinnell tells kids and others in hockey and the community to never give up and bring their best to each opportunity.

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“Never quit trying. Every day, bring your best. If you slip up, you get back up and you try again. Long and low and finish with the toe,” she said.

“Every day is a new blessing; every day is a new opportunity and it’s what you make it.”

“Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Try new things, be amazing at whatever you do and just work at it,” added Granbois.

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