Opinion

Athletes who've honoured a late parent through their sport

After hockey player Martin St. Louis scores a goal hours after his mother's death, Ian Mendes looks at other athletes who overcame tragedy and put on an inspirational performance.

1Martin St Louis

Photo: Getty Images

Last night in New York, Martin St. Louis put on the best show on Broadway.

Just 72 hours after learning about the sudden death of his mom, France, to a sudden heart attack, St. Louis scored the first goal of the Rangers playoff game on Mother’s Day. The crowd was chanting “Marty, Marty!” during his first shift of the game, as if they were willing him to score a goal. It was the type of story that almost seems too good to be true; as if it was scripted by a Hollywood writer.

The St. Louis family has been grieving since learning about the death of France St. Louis on Thursday. There were questions as to whether or not Martin would continue to play in this series, but he rejoined the team on Friday saying that this is the course his mother would have wanted him to take. And with his father and sister watching from the stands last night, St. Louis electrified the New York crowd with a moment that nobody will soon forget. St. Louis picked up the puck and said he was going to deliver it to his father—a souvenir to help with the grieving process.

St. Louis’s ability to focus while playing with a heavy heart is something we’ve seen several times in the world of sports. Parents are often the driving force behind an athlete’s success, and when they are suddenly taken away, we would expect the athlete to be left in shambles. And yet many times, we’ve watched the exact opposite take place, where extraordinary accomplishments happen in the face of this type of tragedy.

Read more: How my kids taught me to deal with death >

Here are five other athletes, who like Martin St. Louis, were able to shine on a big stage just after losing a parent.

Joannie Rochette—Figure skater
While preparing to skate at the 2010 Olympics, Joannie Rochette received the devastating news that her mother had suffered a massive heart attack and died just hours after landing in Vancouver. Rochette made the difficult decision to keep skating despite the tragedy, with only 72 hours of preparation time before the short program. With a heavy heart, Rochette turned in the best performance of her life in the short program, finishing in third spot. She hung onto that position after the long program two days later and captured the bronze medal—which felt like a gold to many people in Canada.

Rochette’s courageous performance earned her the distinction of being Canada’s flag bearer at the closing ceremonies in Vancouver, and she was later named the Female Athlete of the Year in 2010 by the Canadian Press.

John MacDonald—MLB player
Toronto Blue Jays shortstop John MacDonald was always known as a defensive specialist and not a player who hit with power. But on Father’s Day in 2010, MacDonald found inner strength that allowed him to hit one of the most memorable regular season home runs in Blue Jays history.

MacDonald had just been reactivated on the roster that day, after being placed on the bereavement list following the death of his father, Jack. MacDonald stepped to the plate in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants and in his first at-bat of the game, launched a home run that barely cleared the left field wall. After the game, MacDonald told reporters that his father had requested a home run from his death bed—making this moment even more poignant.

Brett Favre—NFL player
Brett Favre had many memorable moments in his career, but none may have been as inspirational as what happened on December 22, 2003. Favre had found out the day before that his father, Irv, had suddenly passed away. The Green Bay quarterback addressed his team that night and told them he had no intention of leaving them before a crucial game.

Monday night, Favre turned in one of the best performances of his career, throwing for 399 yards and four touchdowns as the Packers won in Oakland. “I knew that my dad would have wanted me to play,” Favre said after the game. “I love him so much, and I love this game. It’s meant a great deal to me, to my dad, to my family, and I didn’t expect this kind of performance. But I know he was watching tonight.”

Tiger Woods—PGA golfer
Tiger Woods captured the British Open in 2006—his first tournament victory after the passing of his father, Earl, two months earlier. Woods took nine weeks off the PGA tour to mourn the loss of his dad and then promptly missed the cut at the US Open—the first time it happened to him at a major event in his career. But Woods recovered to play the British Open, and when he sank his final putt on Sunday, he showed a rare bit of emotion by collapsing into the arms of his caddy, Steve Williams, and crying.

“I’m kind of the one who bottles things up a little bit and moves on,” Woods said after the tournament. “But at that moment, it just came pouring out. And of all the things that my father has meant to me and the game of golf, I just wish he would have seen it one more time.”

Wade Redden—NHL player
This one has a bit of a personal connection for me, as I had the opportunity to get to know Wade Redden and his family while he was playing for the Ottawa Senators. His parents, Gord and Pat, were a fixture around the rink and were on a first-name basis with most of us in the Ottawa media.

In the spring of 2006, however, Pat was nearing the end with a long battle with cancer. The playoffs had started, and she passed away at their Lloydminster, Sask., home during the Senators series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Wade missed Game 2 of that series, but he made it all the way down to Tampa for Game 3. I remember seeing him come into the hotel lobby late at night, and he looked completely mentally and physically exhausted.

But the next night, Redden scored a goal and had two assists in a playoff win for Ottawa—and he dedicated the goal for his mother.

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports radio host Ian Mendes gets candid about raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with his wife, Sonia. Read all of Ian’s The Good Sport posts and follow him on Twitter @ian_mendes.