below is a story of my mate gary cloonan, who has inspired me to create this non profit business. i thought it only right that i remember him in this way, and for his name to live on.
"when i was 18 i joined the streatham redskins ice hockey club in south london, and as a north london boy i had to make friends with my new teammates. the first person to introduce himself to me as i arrived at the rink for an away fixture was gary cloonan, a gargantuan of a man who stood 6' 6" in his socks, and he was every bit the defenceman, tough, strong, and quite intimidating when you first saw his xxl frame. but when he opened his mouth he was very gently spoken, not at all what i had expected, "alright, i'm gary" he almost whispered, which reminded me of lennie in 'of mice and men', but in a nice way.
gary cloonan was known as moose by all who knew him, for obvious size similarities, and this name was probably first coined by a visiting canuck, though i never did find out who, and he was one of the toughest guys i ever met. but he was also one of the kindest guys i've ever known, in fact i've never heard anybody have a bad word to say about him, a legacy not many will leave behind. this was moose.
as my career blossomed at streatham, moosey and me became pretty close mates, and although our hockey careers took us to different teams, there was a nucleus of streatham boys who stayed tight, and moose was our self appointed minder when we ventured on holidays, nights out, and other alcohol fuelled events, looking after us in a father like fashion. goodness knows we needed looking after, and some of the funniest times of my life involve moose in one way or another.
moose married a lovely geordie lass julie from whitley bay, and asked me to be his best man. he soon had a lovely son and daughter to complete his dream family, and he suited fatherhood really well. however, the story was to deteriorate rapidly when I received a call from moose telling me that brett his son had got leukemia and he was completely devastated as any father would be.
we all feared the worst, but with treatment, and strong genes, brett pulled through and after a long period of time was given the all clear, which as you can imagine was an amazing relief.
unfortunately, the elation was short lived, as i took a call from the big man that i didn't ever want to hear, he had got cancer.
i remember i was driving, so i pulled over to be able to concentrate, and i just listened as moose told me what he had been told by the doctors. i told him that he would beat it, and in my head i believed he would, he was the moose, he could beat anything, but as we hung up the call i cried, uncontrollable tears, as i felt vulnerable for my friend.
the next couple of years were filled with the stuff that cancer brings, hope, despair, highs and lows, until the call i had dreaded, the big man's voice was weak as he told me that it had spread to his liver, and we both knew this was the end, and neither of us could deny it.
i was numb.
i had taken the call on a family trip to london, and i was on regent street, and i remember the world just went into fast forward as i just stood there like in a dream sequence in a movie, numb, but no tears this time, just an emptiness with the realisation that i was going to lose my best friend in the world.
the next few months went by very quickly, moose didn't want to see anyone as his body slowly shut down, ready to die. he was a proud man and didn't want any of us to see him this way, and we respected his privacy.
then in mid february 2007 julie called us and said that he wanted to see his mates to say goodbye, and as i write this it makes me emotional thinking about the long journey up the a1 that ten of his closest friends made that day to see him for the last time ever.
he answered the door in his dressing gown, a skeletal figure almost unrecognisable, "curse you cancer" i thought, "glad to see you made the effort!" i greeted him, and the other hockey boys all gave him verbal abuse for his state of dress, which broke the ice and allowed some normality to prevail.
he showed us to the lounge where we all sat around drinking tea and coffee, and this figure that i didn't recognise as my mate proceeded to hold court, reminiscing and mocking all of us, as mates always do, as if he was actually ok, but after a couple of hours he became tired and julie suggested he needed his rest so he went up to bed.
it was agreed that we should go up to see him individually to say goodbye, and as i entered the room we both knew the consequences, and hugged each other, and we both fought back the tears trying to stay strong.
we agreed that he would come back to visit me after he passed to let me know that he was still around, and that it was to be in a way that left no doubt that it was definitely him, and since he left us he has done this twice, so i know he is still with me.
we said goodbye and said our catchphrase to each other "love you like a brother" for the last time ever.
we buried moose within the fortnight. his father-in-law dave said that our visit was like when an incandescent light bulb shines very brightly before going out, as he went downhill rapidly after our visit.
as i helped carry his coffin into the church i became aware of my mortality in a way that i never had before. i vowed to myself to get the most out of every minute of my time on this planet and as such moose, you still touch my world, always in a positive way, and since then i have had a great journey, leading me to discover that i really want to continue doing fun stuff that inspires people to live better, healthier, kinder lives, and this my friend is your legacy, love you like a brother."