Random Act of Kindness Brings Joy To Loyal Jets Fan
It’s been a hell of a year for Leslie MacKay.
Back in February, the 36-year-old single mother of one was diagnosed with breast cancer. Upon further testing, scans revealed the return of stage 4 lymphoma in her neck, chest and abdomen (she was initially diagnosed a week before her 13th birthday). On top of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and reconstruction, she has been trying to stay strong for her 10-year-old daughter.
“It hasn’t been easy,” MacKay says, “but that call definitely made things a little bit better.”
That call came, unexpectedly, from a stranger named Ryan DeLong. He was offering her a free Winnipeg Jets ticket.
A week earlier, DeLong had posted a Kijiji ad looking for a companion to the team’s Nov. 18 game against the New Jersey Devils.
DeLong, a 30-year-old Manitoba Hydro employee and lifelong Winnipegger, originally bought the tickets for Saturday’s tilt assuming he’d find a friend to tag along. When none of them could make it and he couldn’t bring himself to sell the tickets, he decided to invite a stranger.
“If I would’ve tried a little bit harder, I definitely would’ve found someone I knew,” he said. “But I’ve always wanted to do something like this, so I figured, ‘Why not?’ I’m not shy, so there would be no lack of conversation. And perhaps I’d make a new friend along the way.”
Much to DeLong’s surprise, more than 100 people replied to his ad. The majority, he said, were single moms who couldn’t afford to attend games.
“At first I narrowed it down to about 10,” he said. “I felt bad that I didn’t have enough tickets to bring them all.”
Ironically, the woman he ended up choosing didn’t even know she was being considered. Unknown to MacKay, a friend had reached out to DeLong on her behalf. The message spoke of her battles with cancer, her love for the Jets and her resilient spirit.
“She has fought this fight with everything inside of her, determined to be here for her daughter’s life,” it read. “She’s the strongest person I know. She’s the most positive person I know.”
While DeLong received a number of compelling pitches, MacKay’s story spoke to him on a deeply personal level.
“I decided on Leslie because my mom passed away from breast cancer 14 years ago, at the age of only 51,” he said. “Cancer hits home for me. I know how merciless of a disease it is, and I know what she’s going through. Also, it’s Hockey Fights Cancer month in the NHL, so it felt like a good fit.”
“I was completely shocked when Ryan called me,” said MacKay, whose advocate wishes to remain anonymous until Saturday. “I knew what he was talking about right away because I’d seen his post, but I never contacted him. For someone to contact him on my behalf leaves me at a loss for words.”
While the two have exchanged texts, DeLong and MacKay won’t meet until game day at Bell MTS Place. But even though they’re perfect strangers, they have at least one thing in common: their endless love for the hometown Jets.
In the case of Delong, diehard fan might be a bit of an understatement.
“I’m obsessed with the team,” said Delong, who attends five to 15 games per year and watches the rest on TV. “If you see me on my phone, chances are I’m looking at articles, standings or stats. I have a tattoo sleeve that I dedicated to all things Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada, and a lot of it is Jets-related.”
He’s not kidding. Among his intricate body art are homages to Confusion Corner, the Golden Boy, the Jets logo, and even a replica of his “WPG J3TS” license plate.
But the true masterpiece is inked on the inside of his right bicep: a tribute to Winnipeg superfan Dancin’ Gabe, pom pom toque and all.
MacKay, on the other hand, said she’s been following the Jets for years and hasn’t missed a game on TV in the past two seasons. That said, she’s only attended one game since the team moved back in 2011 and can’t wait to get another taste of live NHL action.
And while DeLong can’t guarantee a win for the good guys, he plans to make MacKay’s experience as memorable as possible.
“I expect it to be really fun,” said DeLong, who has also fundraised about $500 to buy MacKay a Dustin Byfuglien jersey and snacks at the game. “I’m usually very focused on the game, but I think a lot of my attention will be focused on making sure she’s enjoying herself. It will be mission accomplished if I catch her smiling. A Jets’ win would just be icing on the cake.”
As for MacKay, she feels like she’s already won.
“I’m still a little bit taken aback,” she said. “For someone to just do something like this for a stranger, I don’t even know what to say.
“It’s a nice reminder that good people do exist in Winnipeg. And Ryan is at the top of that list.”