Thirteen-year-old Ryan Rowlinson is battling neurofibromatosis, a disease that can lead to rapid and life-threatening tumor growth anywhere in his body. His one dream was to meet his hockey hero, Alex Ovechkin.
On Wednesday, that dream came true.
Ryan, along with his parents Simone and Craig and his brother Jacob, were welcomed to the Capitals morning skate at Kettler Capitals Iceplex by a grinning Ovi, who teamed up with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to surprise the boy with a day full of hockey excitement.
As the morning progressed, the young Caps fan, who hails from Canada, stood rink-side and watched the team practice, naming each starter as they skated by. When a player approached him with the warning to look out for flying pucks, it didn’t phase the brave, starry-eyed Ryan.
“It’s OK if I get hit with a puck and lose a tooth,” explained Ryan. “Then I’ll look like Ovechkin!”
After the morning session, Ovi presented Ryan with a signed, game-used stick. Standing there with his newly acquired memorabilia, Ryan sighed in awe as he looked at the puck marks scarring the (faux) wood. “I don’t even know what to do. I’m sort of shocked.”
His dad nodded. “It’s a little overwhelming, eh?”
Stick still in hand, Ryan got a personal Ovechkin-led tour of the locker room. As they brought him through Ryan came to a locker filled with Capitals gear, too small for anyone on the roster. As he looked up, he saw his own name on top of the locker and realized that the clothes were a gift for him. He pulled out each item and smiled as his teary-eyed mother looked on.
“It is amazing to see him excited about something instead of anxious, nervous, or scared,” his mom had written in a letter to the foundation. “Finally something so good for him.”
After a day of excitement, Ryan was to watch the Capitals' pre-game warm-ups Wednesday night from the penalty box, and then retire with his family to Ovechkin’s personal box to watch what he hopes will be a Capitals' win.
Ryan will never get to play hockey -- contact sports just aren’t in his future. His life has been a grueling and painful journey and the disease he suffers from has no cure.
But for Ryan, just being a part of it, if only for one day, is all he could ever ask for.
(Watch Alex Ovechkin's reaction to meeting one of his biggest fans during Dan Hellie's report on News4 at 5 p.m.)