True Warrior: Hendersonville Community Honors Fallen Teammate
By Darren Lowry

Michael Lewandowski loved hockey.

Ever since the youngster started playing in 1999 for the Hendersonville InLine Hockey Association, he was known around the rinks as a battler.

As hard as he fought on the rink, he ultimately fought a much tougher opponent: cancer.

“He was a true warrior,” said Cathy Sterrett, the mother of Lewandowski’s friend Ryan.

Tragically, his life was cut far too short on Aug. 11, just two days before he was to turn 14.

Naturally, the Hendersonville community has been in shock ever since.

To honor his memory, HIHA created the Michael Lewandowski Memorial Award, which will be given to the most valuable player of the age division he would have played in, the 14-17 group.

“I never coached him, but I knew his coaches,” Steve Angus said. “I know that it isn’t about the skill and the talent; it’s about the drive, and that was him.”

Angus, who sits on the board of directors for the league, came up with the idea for the award. While Lewandowski actually played at another rink in Hendersonville, the league now makes its home at Veterans Park.

The facility just added lights for the two rinks, and will eventually add a concession stand, bathroom areas and a roof over the surfaces. A permanent plaque for the award will go up on the wall of the concession stand.

Angus’ daughter, Meren, was in the same class as Lewandowski in the 4th grade.

“He always made me laugh,” she said. “When he passed away, it gave me a new look on life. He died so young; it makes me want to live life to the fullest.”

Michael certainly did that.

While in the 1 st grade, Lewandowski, at age 7, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric form that inflicts mostly children.

Being the fighter that he was, he received treatment at the Sloan-Kettering Center in New York City, and beat the cancer.

It was during this time that he became a fan of hockey. So he wanted to play, despite just beating the life-threatening disease. So he did.

“Hockey was his therapy,” Colleen Lynch, Lewandowski’s 4th grade teacher said. “He liked anything that kept him in it.”

On registration day in 2000, Lynch was told to treat any illness Lewandowski may have had as serious.

Everything was going fine until Friday the 13th of October 2000, when Michael came down with a fever.

 

 

 

 

 

The cancer had come back a second time.

Following the diagnosis, Lynch would visit Michael to tutor him, both at his home and in the hospital.

Despite the recurrence of the disease, Lewandowski was determined to play in the NHL Breakout street hockey tournament in 2001 at the Opryland Hotel, as he had the previous summer.

Despite being weakened by his chemotherapy and without the benefit of any practice, he played in the tournament, scoring two goals.

“That was the last time I saw him,” Meren Angus said. “He was having a great time. All of his hair had grown back.”

The following year, Lewandowski had to move to Charleston, South Carolina because of his father’s job, and, of course, Michael continued to play hockey.

His impact was certainly felt there as well, as the Lowcountry Hockey Association in Charleston will hold the first annual memorial ice hockey tournament for Lewandowski at the Carolina Ice Palace from Jan. 13-16. (Teams interested in playing should register by Dec. 12 by calling tournament director John Lindgren at 843-569-3051.)

Unfortunately, after beating it this time, the cancer struck again two years later.

Lewandowski again fought it, but after years of enduring harsh chemotherapy treatments, eventually it was too much.

Ultimately, Lewandowski battled neuroblastoma for nearly seven years, beating the cancer three separate times, only to have it come back three times. Still, his all-to-brief life touched those who knew him.

Lewandowski did get to experience some special moments, compliments of two NHL teams.

While he was receiving treatment, Lewandowski was visited by some of the Nashville Predators while in Tennessee and the entire New York Rangers team while in New York.

He got a stick that was signed by Mario Lemieux.

On Christmas Eve 2000, when he was too sick to fly commercially, the Predators let the whole Lewandowski family fly with them from New York back to Nashville on their private charter.

However, the biggest thrill of all had to come when Lewandowski received a personal phone call from The Great One himself in February.

Clark Henson of the Budai Highlanders was the first recipient of the award, netting a hat trick in the championship game. He said later that he expected one of his teammates to win it.

“He plays because he likes to play,” Henson’s father, Doug, said. “He’s not selfish; he plays like a team player. He plays because he loves to do it.”

With that kind of approach, there couldn’t have been a better representative for the trophy.

“This award will help the spirit of Michael live on in the sport he loved,” Lynch said.

 





 
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