Heroes Beyond Hockey

Tad O’Had, associate head coach of the Florida Everblades, supports fighters on and off the ice.

Being involved in hockey as a player and as a youth, junior and pro coach of the Everblades, O’Had knows the value of fighting and persevering.

“I spend every day with men trained to battle on the ice,” he said. “I have found that you never know the true meaning of strength until the moment you are met with adversity. Strength has very little to do with the weight you move or the time you score. Strength is endured through the ability to show up and battle.”

Four years ago, O’Had faced a fight of his own when he was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, an uncommon type of blood-cell cancer that originates in the bone marrow. Receiving that news totally changed his perspective.

“I realized how fortunate I am, and I worked on growing and persevering,” he said, noting he is now in remission. “I’m thankful for the progress I have made, the people that have helped me get here and that I’m on the road to good health.”

For his birthday in February, he decided to give back to the community that has supported him.

Through a partnership between the Florida Everblades and Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida that includes the annual teddy bear toss to collect stuffed animals for children at the hospital, O’Had and team members met some of the children and their families and heard their struggles.

“Golisano Children’s Hospital is a place that embodies what it means to be strong,” he said. “Seeing these kids in pain was heartbreaking, but also very humbling. Their perseverance is inspiring.”

To honor these courageous kids and to encourage donations to the hospital, he decided to challenge himself physically the day before his 39th birthday. Months in advance, he planned and trained to row, bike and run 39 miles and complete 3,900 weight repetitions. He sent emails to 39 people who have influenced him throughout his life, thanking them and asking them to support the hospital.

Throughout his challenge, O’Had checked in with Everblades trainer Chris Emrick to be accountable and make sure he didn’t get injured.

“To say I was exhausted is an understatement, but no matter how hard that day was for me, it pales in comparison to what those kids are going through,” he said. “When you look at a child who is hurting or receiving lifesaving care, and they’re doing it with a smile on their face, it’s truly inspiring. I find a great deal of strength in that.”

Through the generosity of friends, family and players, he raised well over his target of $3,900 for Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“I think the biggest thing we need to do as members of the community is to show compassion and provide service to one another,” he said. “We may never understand the struggles that others are undergoing around us, but by supporting organizations like Golisano Children’s Hospital, we are impacting the youth of the community and possibly saving a life. If you can help at any level, you should. It’s the right thing to do.”

O’Had credits his mother Cheryl Gnojek with his drive to help others. He’s not sure what he’ll be doing for his birthday next year, but he’s grateful for the opportunity to support Golisano Children’s Hospital this year.

To learn how you can help, visit LeeHealthFoundation.org/Golisano.