This week's Vitals: He shoots, he saves

FoMD all-star alumnus Chris Le helps all kids hit the ice through Sport Central.

Laura Vega - 1 February 2017

The boost to find the right place and path in life can come in the most unexpected ways. For family doctor Chris Le, it came years ago in the shape of a hockey puck.

Le, who graduated from the U of A's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry in 2013, is currently collaborating with Sport Central-an Alberta-based organization that provides equipment to kids who cannot afford it-and helping raise funds to "return the favour" after being a recipient of donated hockey gear during his childhood.

Building connections beyond the rink

For Le, playing hockey became an important part of who he is as a person and as a physician.

As the son of Vietnamese immigrants who came from the U.S. to Canada, Le became fascinated with the idea of playing and getting the rush of hockey just like all his classmates, who constantly talked about NHL games. He wanted to be a part of it. "Hockey was a culture that I didn't belong to, and its regular appearance in conversations reminded me that I didn't fit in," says Le.

At age 11, Le received a scholarship from the University of Alberta for his academic excellence, giving him the opportunity to attend a Golden Bears goalie camp. Unfortunately, hockey equipment could not be a priority in his parents' efforts to make ends meet and raise him and his three younger brothers.

Le's elementary school then contacted Sport Central, who provided all the equipment he needed for the goalie camp. He defines it as one of the highlights of his life. "Just to be able to be on the ice and play sports like I wanted… I was not very good but I certainly was the happiest kid," he remembers.

Playing hockey helped Chris Le find a way to connect with his community, something he has carried out until today. Now in Chilliwack, BC, Le reflects on how participating in sports with others has helped him become a better professional.

"Family medicine is about building relationships with our patients," says Le. "They want to be treated as people. Hockey reminds me that my encounters with patients have the potential to leave a positive interaction with the health care system. Taking a few extra minutes to listen and let them feel cared for can help them towards being healthier in their own lives and communities."

Passing it forward for healthier children and stronger communities

During a trip back to Edmonton, Le decided to get in touch with Sport Central, to let them know how they had improved his life and help them reach more children in need. He is especially focused on providing good-quality fiberglass goalie masks for kids-the most important piece of a goalie's gear, in his opinion-instead of inexpensive plastic ones.

His interest in getting involved with an organization that helps the community was not just a nostalgic moment thinking of those happy days of the past, but also a strong drive to improve other kids' future through sports.

Chris Le (centre) and students from Father Michael Troy School at Sports Central, holding fiberglass hockey masks including some personalized by Le.

"Obviously there's an important health benefit in encouraging kids to be active," explains Le. "But this charity also removes barriers for them to participate in sports with other people, and stay out of trouble."

"Who knows? Maybe those masks can be the spark that raises the next NHL goaltenders or, better yet, the next citizens who'll contribute back to their communities."

Sport Central is one of the participating organizations in the Charity Cup Challenge, where four elementary schools compete for votes to have their charity of choice win up to $25,000.

You can find more information to support Sport Central's team at the Hockey Helps Kids' Charity Cup Challenge here.

For almost as long as there's been a Canada, there's been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada's 150th anniversary, we're proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.