A motivating factor for my writing for the Canadian media site fadoo.ca this hockey season is my belief that HockeyWashington has so many terrific stories to tell, and I want them exported. With ‘Hockey’s Biggest Heroes Sometimes Come in the Smallest Packages,’ I’ve shared with our Canuck cousins to the North my favorite story of 2009: Tara Wheeler.
And so I begin: “We’ve a hockey hero in Washington who doesn’t go by the name of Ovechkin. In fact, coming in at 5’ 7 and barely 115 pounds, she’s seriously lacking in the body checking department. But she possesses a pretty good glove hand, and there can be no questioning her hockey heart.”
Those of you who began following OFB prior to 2009 know that I happened upon Tara and her terrific story most accidentally. She’s been the best accident I’ve ever had. Here is the heart of my case for this special hockey heart as I made it to the Great White North earlier today:
“From the moment she was crowned Miss Virginia in 2008 Tara made it priority no. 1 in her life to champion the cause of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation and the Children’s Miracle Network. She put thousands of miles on her car each month visiting Virginia elementary schools and most especially the cancer wards of hospitals where hairless children undergoing chemotherapy treatments bravely fought one of life’s toughest battles. Tara had a special message to deliver to those children: beauty is as beauty does.
“An interesting facet to the work of St. Baldrick’s spokespersons: they have this highly commendable habit of drawing attention to their cause by subjecting their locks to a heavy shearing – going bald. In September, Tara did just this. Little more than six months removed from walking a Las Vegas grand ballroom stage as a Miss America beauty, Tara had her hairdresser mother guide balding clippers through her beautiful mane to dramatize her message: beauty is as beauty does. No longer wearing her Miss Virginia crown, Tara desperately wanted to continue visiting cancer-stricken children in hospitals across the Washington region wearing a wig, flicking it off before their wide eyes, smiling, and telling them, “Aren’t we beautiful!”
“If you don’t believe that bald can be beautiful, you need to see bald Tara.
“I’m blessed to call Tara a friend. About a week after she shaved her head she and I took in a Capitals’ game together. She had to wear a wool cap to the game because it was so cold in the rink, but at one point I removed it, rubbed her peach-fuzzed crown, kissed it, looked her square in the eye, and said, “You inspire me, and you make me freshly proud to be a Washingtonian.”
“Miss America contestants tend to possess exceptional talent, and about two weeks later, with a bit more peach fuzz warming her head, Tara Wheeler walked out onto the ice at Verizon Center before a Caps’ game, capless, and belted out the most beautiful rendition of our ‘Star Spangled Banner’ I ever heard. Ever. I was standing in the arena press box that night, looking down on my hockey hero friend, tears filling my eyes.
“Tara is singularly responsible for raising more than $50,000 in the past year to fight cancer. She’s also made some sick children very eager to attend a hockey game just as soon as they get out of the hospital.”
Earlier this week I highlighted Tara’s appearance in the November issue of USA Hockey Magazine, and while it was true at the time that no link was available to that terrific file, it is now. Read Mark Miller’s profile of Tara and keep an eye out for more special work from Miller before the year’s out.