Hockey player carries on her father’s legacy through blood donation

Julia Schmitt is combining her passions for hockey and blood donation to make a greater impact for patients

Inspiration
December 7, 2020
Featured image of Julia Schmitt holding up a picture frame of her and her dad wearing hockey equipment in an indoor hockey rink.

Some of Julia Schmitt’s earliest and fondest memories are truly Canadian ones.

She learned to skate on her family’s backyard rink when she was three and growing up spent every winter break from school shooting a puck with her younger brothers and her dad, Mike, who was also her childhood hockey coach.

“Hockey has always been such a strong connection for my family and I loved having my dad as my coach. If I didn’t play well, I definitely heard about it on the drive home from practice, but I still wouldn’t change a single thing about the experience,” says Julia.

“My dad was my hero — I just wish he was still here today.”

When Julia was 13 years old, her father was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer — his prognosis was grim.

At the time, Mike’s doctor predicted he may only have a few months left, so to help extend his life and his time with his family, he began chemotherapy straight away.

As part of his intensive treatment, Mike also began receiving regular blood transfusions.

“I remember my parents sitting me down and telling me all the details about my dad’s treatment and about the blood transfusions he was receiving,” says Julia.

“The way they explained it to me was that people from our community and across the country were donating their blood so that my dad could have the strength to keep up his fight with cancer. When I learned that, I told my parents that whatever my dad’s outcome was, I wanted to become a blood donor myself one day so that I could help bring hope to other families like ours.”

Sadly, Mike passed away in January 2015, after an 18-month battle with cancer.

True to her word, Julia began donating blood in honour of her father’s memory as soon as she was old enough to do so. Since turning 17, she has donated blood six times and has also registered to be an organ donor.

Today, Julia is 21 years old and a fourth-year science student at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, where she continues to play hockey for the university’s team. She also regularly shares her personal story with classmates and teammates to encourage them to join Canada’s Lifeline.

Recently, Julia discovered an opportunity to make an even bigger impact by joining the Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassador Program, combining her passion for hockey with her passion for blood donation.

Saving lives takes teamwork:

Presenting the Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassador Program, sponsored by Canada Life

The Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassador program is an exciting new initiative that engages young developing hockey players from across Canada who have been recognized by their peers as influential champions. The program provides ambassadors with the platform and resources they need to help inspire the next generation of donors to join Canada’s Lifeline.

Long-time partner Canada Life has teamed up with Canadian Blood Services and Hockey Gives Blood as presenting sponsor of this program during the 2020–2021 hockey season.

Every week, we’ll be sharing new stories, videos and rallying cries from player ambassadors like Julia Schmitt through Canadian Blood Services’ national social media channels.

With Canada Life’s support in engaging the hockey community about the importance of blood, plasma, stem cells and organ and tissue donations, we can continuously and effectively achieve our vision to help every patient, match every need and serve every Canadian.

Learn more at blood.ca/hockey.

“I knew I needed to get involved [with Hockey Gives Blood] because I love hockey and I love spreading awareness about blood donation,” says Julia.

“After losing my dad, I wanted to carry on his legacy and do everything I could to help other people. That’s what he would have wanted.”

Hockey Gives Blood is a non-profit organization committed to making a positive difference in the health and well-being of patients across Canada, by engaging and educating the hockey community about the importance of blood and stem cell donation and raising funds in support of Canadian Blood Services. The organization is also a proud member of Canadian Blood Services’ Partners for Life program.

As a newly-minted Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassador, Julia now is using her elevated platform to share her personal story more broadly and to continue to spread awareness about the importance of donating blood products.

She currently works alongside two of her fellow Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassadors (who play on St. Francis Xavier’s men’s hockey team) to coordinate regular blood drives on campus.

Given that she is also one of the few female players within a largely male-dominated sport, Julia says that it is another important priority for her to spread awareness about blood donation amongst young women. Through her efforts, she hopes to encourage and inspire more diversity within the donor population overall.

On a more personal note, Julia is also seeking to inspire her younger brothers to join Canada’s Lifeline, to strengthen the connection they already share through hockey.

She has her sights particularly set on her 16-year old brother, Brayden Schmitt, a hockey player with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Julia’s hope is that Brayden will also become a Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassador once he’s old enough to donate blood.

For Julia, her drive to help others doesn’t just come from her experience losing her father, but from the valuable lessons he taught her in their short time together.

“Everything my dad was, I try to be. He gave everything he could and did everything he could to help others,” says Julia.

“I always remember one important thing he would say to me, which was ‘I’m not just making you a better hockey player, but a better person’”.

Holiday season a reminder of the valuable gift of time

With the holiday season coming up, Julia says she’s been spending a lot of time lately thinking about her dad and that last Christmas that they spent together.

It was thanks to the generosity of blood donors, she says, that her dad was able to come home from the hospital for the holidays in December 2014.

“Looking back, I remember how challenging that time was for my dad health-wise, and I’ll always be grateful for how those blood transfusions he received meant that we could have him home for the holidays, one last time,” says Julia.

It’s that message of giving the valuable “gift of time” that she hopes to emphasize through her work with the Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassador program.

“Blood donation can help save lives, but I think it’s also important for people to understand how great of a gift it is to simply give people more time with their loved ones,” says Julia.

“By giving up just an hour of your time to donate, you can help save someone’s life after a tragic accident — or you could also give them an extra week, an extra month, or even one last holiday with their family.”

To learn more about the Hockey Gives Blood Player Ambassador Program and other blood donation champions like Julia, visit blood.ca/hockey.

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