When Landon High School’s hockey team’s Ethan and Max Weinstein reached out to Steve Cash, a three-time U.S. Paralympic gold medalist, to help raise awareness for a charity event, the answer was simple.
“They mentioned that it was for pediatric cancer, and to me that was a no brainer,” Cash said. “That’s all you had to say.”
The event, “Haircuts for Heroes,” sees players on Landon’s high school hockey team shave their heads to raise money for the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. Originally named “Be Brave and Shave”, the event started when Ethan and Max were in seventh grade. By the time they arrived to high school, the event found itself in limbo when one of the organizer’s kids graduated. With one of the Weinstein’s teammates going through pediatric cancer, reviving the event game them the inspiration to give back to the community and reboot the initiative.
With the 2019 date set for Jan. 25 and fundraising already underway, the Weinstein’s turned their attention toward bringing in a celebrity guest. Cash, a pediatric cancer survivor who has led the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team to three Paralympic gold medals (2010, 2014, 2018) and world championships (2009, 2012, 2015), seemed like a perfect fit to help spread awareness.
Cash’s visit started on Friday, where he spoke at a school assembly about his own experience overcoming pediatric cancer. That was followed by lunch, where Cash sat and ate with the hockey team. That evening, Cash was on hand as members of the hockey team shaved their heads ahead of its game against Bishop O’Connell.
The experience blew Cash away.
“Max and Ethan are two kids that get it,” Cash explained. “Just meeting them and getting to know them, you can tell they’re more about anything else than they are about themselves and they want to do better for the community. I can’t honestly say that when I was their age I would’ve thought about putting on an event like this but they’ve done a great job.”
Cash, center, alongside Ethan and Max Weinstein
Similarly, Cash’s presence and his own life experiences left an impression.
“It’s huge to have a four-time Paralympian who’s won multiple gold medals be here,” Max Weinstein said. “He’s really helped us and having someone of that status come to our event, it’s really humbling and neat to have him here.”
“He was inspiring, he was really cool and just a normal guy,” added Ethan. “He’s really fun, really cool to hang out with. We talked about hockey, we had so much in common and it was really fun to spend the day with a cool guy like that.”
Cash was diagnosed with bone pediatric cancer at age three. The end result for a hockey-loving young boy was having his right leg amputated.
“When you’re given a challenge that young, you’re kind of forced to a rapt to every situation that you’re thrown into,” Cash explained. “For me, that’s all I know. So, I’ve been forced to use prosthetics ever since I could remember. To some people, it might seem like I have to try that much harder but for me it’s an everyday life thing. What I really try to thrive on is regardless of the hand you’re dealt, you can still do anything you put your mind to.”
Cash with Landon High School's hockey team
Growing up a St. Louis Blues fan admiring eventual U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull, Cash found his niche through sled hockey. Already part of a hockey family, Cash was drawn to the fast-paced nature of the sport. He joined the Blues’ Disabled Athlete Sports Association in 2004. Settled in as a goaltender, Cash quickly went up the ranks and landed a spot on the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team the following season.
The position is one that brings with it immense responsibility, something Cash relishes.
“Being the goalie, you’re relied on heavily than some other positions but I’ve always liked that pressure. For me, the higher the pressure situation, the better I’ve played.”
Cash won his first Paralympic gold medal in 2010 at the Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, setting a Paralympic record for registering five shutouts and not allowing a single goal in tournament play. Four years later, Cash again backstopped Team USA to a gold medal, the first time any nation successfully defended a Paralympic gold medal in sled hockey.
Last March, a chance at an unprecedented third-straight Paralympic gold medal seemed bleak before a last-minute tying goal and an overtime game-winner — both by teammate Declan Farmer — secured a come-from-behind win.
“It was really cool hearing his story. He told us a lot about his experiences and it was cool to spend time with him and know that he was here for us,” said Max.
Cash’s impact not only for sled hockey in the United States but in the community attending an event like “Haircuts for Heroes” will be a lasting one on those high school hockey players.
Asked what kind of advice he would give anybody going through this disease and diagnosis, Cash responded, “You have to keep in mind that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. There’s always going to be a new adventure for you to take and as long as you don’t give up that fight and keep strong, good things will happen.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.