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Mario Lemieux

  b. 1965 | American hockey player

At The Bottom
 1993

His personal life and his season seemed over, his career threatened, and his life in the balance.

In early January 1993, Mario Lemieux received devastating news from his doctors:  he had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease.  Driving home from Allegheny General Hospital, Lemieux could hardly pay attention to the road. He was scheduled to be married in five months, but now his personal life and his season seemed over, his career threatened, and his life in the balance.  He’d lost a cousin to Hodgkin’s fifteen years earlier, and he couldn’t help but wonder if he’d suffer the same fate. Lemieux, one of the most gifted scorers ever to play hockey, had noticed a small, rubbery lump in his neck in 1992 but thought nothing of it, even as it grew in size.  His team, The Pittsburgh Penguins, was marching toward a second consecutive Stanley Cup, and while Lemieux would spend much of the season dealing with injuries of one kind or another, he would eventually play a key role in bringing the Cup back to the Steel City.  When the 1992-93 season began, Lemieux and the Pens had their sights fixed on a third title, and Lemieux himself set a pace to break some of the greatest scoring records in the history of the sport.

At The Top
 1997

Miraculous as his return had been, his level of play never diminished.

Two days after being inducted into the National Hockey League Hall of Fame, Mario Lemieux bid a tearful farewell to the Penguins and his Pittsburgh fans.  Describing his thirteen years with the team as “the best 13 years of my life,” the man known as “Super Mario” watched as his number 66 was retired and hoisted to the rafters of Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena.  Lemieux had not only defeated cancer — surviving months of brutal radiation treatment — but he’d actually managed to return to the ice before the 1992-93 season was over.  Miraculous as his return had been, his level of play never diminished.  He was named hockey’s most valuable player in 1994-1995 and won scoring titles in that season as well as the next — all while suffering from back problems and other injuries that would have kept most players out of the game.  Indeed, Lemieux’s drive to succeed was so intense that he came out of retirement in 2000 and played another five years before retiring for a second and final time in 2006.

The Comeback

He was determined to put nothing else on hold while he battled cancer.

Four days after his diagnosis, Mario Lemieux spoke with reporters and expressed optimism about his chances for survival.  “I’m a positive person,” he explained.  “Sometimes in life, you have to go through tough periods.  I haven’t been that fortunate.  But you climb the mountain.  We know this disease is curable.” Lemieux’s excellent physical conditioning and his boundless optimism helped carry him through his treatments and back to action a mere two months later.  He was determined not to miss the rest of the season, and he was determined to put nothing else on hold while he battled cancer.  He even insisted that his wedding (scheduled for June 1993) would not be postponed.  Throughout his career, Lemieux struggled back from injuries and illness, and cancer became merely one of the obstacles that he threw aside on his way to one of the most remarkable careers in any sport.  Only when he was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat did Mario Lemieux finally leave the ice for good.

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