I started writing this early on Saturday morning. I had been awoken by a text from one of my colleagues informing me that Robin Mercer-Sproule had passed away.
Because I don’t keep up with the world on social media, simply because I don’t want to hear about someone’s baby crapping in their diaper for the first time, I texted a friend of mine who would know.
Yes, Robin was gone. Damn cancer took another good one from us.
I spent a lot of time trying to find the right thing to say about Robin, or at least the right way to start.
So I figured this: screw it – I can’t start it any one way. It wouldn’t be right to Robin because there are so many right ways to start writing about a woman who showed us not only what bravery was all about in her final days but what it meant to be an awesome person.
She was a girls hockey player long before it was cool, or even accepted. Girls didn’t play hockey back then, didn’t you know? It was a boys game. The girls played ringette, or at least they did when I was growing up in Toronto. We called that girls hockey. Either that or they did figure skating.
Oh, right … she did that as well, which was how she started her Arctic Winter Games career in 1976. She would eventually transition to hockey but she didn’t have to. She was already the best figure skater in town when she moved here in 1974.
Listing everything Robin accomplished would be too much to mention and I, sadly, don’t have the space to add it. The NWT Sport Hall of Fame is a wonderful resource and has a “brief” synopsis of what she’s done.
I had so many good moments with Robin over the years, beginning with the first time we met in 2006. It was over the phone while I was still in the newsroom at CJCD. I don’t think she was expecting to hear my over-sized voice when I picked up the phone:
“Newsroom … James here!”
A few seconds of silence followed.
“Oh, hello there … this is Robin Sproule (she hadn’t yet married Traci) …”
We had a lovely chat about women’s hockey in Yellowknife … so lovely that by the time I was about to hang up, she forgot to tell me the real reason she had called in the first place. The Yk Women’s Hockey League was heading to a tournament that coming weekend and she was wondering if we would be interested in an interview beforehand.
How much of a dingus would I have been if I told her no, especially after the nearly 20 minutes we had spent on the phone just straight shooting the crap?
That was something Robin was always good at: carrying a conversation. Here’s another example:
Right after she had been inducted into the hall of fame in 2018, she called me up because I had made a boo-boo in the article the following Wednesday. She told me it was a small one about when she finished playing in the Arctic Winter Games but no worries about correcting it because it was insignificant.
Here’s the thing: considering the age we live in and how a lot of people view journalists and the media in general – I’m not saying all but a significant number of people – any mistake means you run the risk of being labeled “fake news.” I told her it would be corrected online first and in Friday’s paper. She laughed and told me there was a coffee on her in my future.
And like that last time in 2006, we ended up talking each other’s ear off only this time, it was about her treatment. Hearing her tell of how there were spots on almost every major organ was one of the saddest things I had ever heard. I just sat in my chair in amazement as she outlined what treatment she was receiving to try to fight those damn tumours off.
Through it all, Robin remained stoic. They say those with cancer have good days and bad days. If Robin ever had a bad day, she was one helluva terrific actor because every time I saw her, she was smiling. We bumped into each other at the Yellowknife Golf Club one time in 2018 during a Mediocre Golf Association tournament (she loved playing in those) and she came over and put her head on my arm, looked up at me and smiled.
“I’m still fighting, James.”
Like there was any doubt. I knew she was fighting and I told her not to stop. I’m willing to wager my mortgage that she still tried to fight before she took her last breath that early Saturday morning.
Because that’s what athletes do.
Athletes always try to find a way to get ahead because half of playing any sport is strategic. The classic one-on-one battle between sword and shield and there must be a winner. You need to find a way to beat your opponent. Robin fought this like an athlete because if something didn’t work, she simply regrouped and tried something else.
Just like any athlete would do.
We can look back and say Robin lost her fight but here’s the best thing: there are so many people who have – and will – tag themselves in to continue the fight. So many people loved Robin and aren’t only able but willing to step in the ring in order to kick the ever-loving crap out of this damned disease.
Because that’s what we do. We pick up the flag and charge on. We never forget, but we charge on.
Cancer will be beaten one day. I just hope we can see Robin again to let her know.