In the world of sports, “tough” is a botched shot, a missed field goal, or a loss at the buzzer.
But the adversity that 12-year-old Nathan Potvin faces gives new meaning to what a tough situation really is.
At five years old, the New Hampshire native was diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor. After a series of brutal procedures, the disease went into remission.
A boy who once faced possible paralysis now plays Little League baseball and youth-league hockey, where a two-sport middle school student finds his true calling.
Even after leading a normal and healthy life for years—as Nathan did—all patients with serious illness fear the news that he got last spring. During a check-up with specialists in Boston, Nathan and his family were informed that the tumors had returned, and that he would need to undergo an aggressive course of treatment. Doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute prescribed 15 months of chemotherapy, a grueling treatment for anyone, let alone a seventh grader.
Despite the prognosis, Nathan hasn’t stopped participating in hockey. The only difference is that his practices and games are in Cambridge instead.
Nathan’s doctor recommended him to Friends of Jaclyn a few months ago. The foundation pairs children facing serious illness with local high school or college teams and has developed a national presence.
FOJ has worked with Harvard before—the baseball team “adopted” a three-year-old, Alex Wawrzyniak, last spring, and softball coach Brandi Gordon works with the non-profit. The team is looking to adopt a girl of its own this year.
When the charity connected Nathan to the Crimson men’s hockey team, the coaching staff was quick to jump on the unique opportunity.
“Coach Donato brought it to my attention earlier in the year, just after I was hired here,” said Bill Downey, director of hockey operations. “I knew it was something that the players on the team would really take a hold of and get involved with.”
Downey says that Nathan, who comes to team functions with his father, family, and sometimes with friends, has become full member of Harvard hockey. One of the primary goals of FOJ, after the adoption, is to incorporate the child into the team to create an extended support group.
“He was a little shy at first, but he’s opened up quite a bit and the team has really taken a [liking] to him,” co-captain Chris Huxley says. “He’s part of the team. It’s good to have him be part of the team.”
As a member of the Harvard hockey, Nathan gets to enjoy some of the benefits that come with being an athlete for the Crimson. Like his teammates, Nathan has his own locker.
Last Friday, Nathan was introduced at a game with the team. Downey asked Mike Potvin, Nathan’s father, to get his hockey gear—which Nathan usually keeps in the car—out of the trunk.
“And then [Downey] said, ‘Here’s what I want to do: during lineups, we introduce Harvard, but we also want to introduce Nathan,’” Mike remembers. “[That] was really cool.”
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