11 September 2023

The Caribou CBR Brave rallied around their biggest fan and showed 'humanity at its best'

| Travis Radford
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Emma Easton and Jackson Gallagher with a trophy

A “life highlight” for ice hockey super-fan Emma Easton was going out on the ice with Caribou CBR Brave player Jackson Gallagher. Photo: Supplied.

The story of the Canberra woman behind why Caribou CBR Brave are ‘walking 4 brain cancer’ this month shows another side to the leaderboard-topping ice hockey team.

It all started in 1993, some two decades before the inception of The Brave when two sisters watched what they believed to be the greatest hockey film of all time, The Mighty Ducks.

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Amy Easton credits this as the moment her sister Emma, then aged five, was introduced to the sport, which would become one of her biggest passions. Until Emma died in May from a rare form of cancer that affects the central nervous system (diffuse leptomeningeal glioneuronal tumour), the Canberran could regularly be seen in the front row of the Brave’s games, drum in hand to out-cheer any opposing fans.

“She was one of those people that would go to [the Brave’s] away games and her motivation was to make sure the team had supporters,” Amy says.

“Her belief was everybody needs people cheering so she would make sure she was on the sidelines cheering because even if there were only a few Brave fans, with her there and that drum there, she thought they could cheer even louder than the home crowds.”

Emma and Amy Easton

Amy (left) says she was “floored” by the support of Caribou CBR Brave for her sister Emma (right) when she was diagnosed with cancer. Photo: Supplied.

But when Emma was diagnosed with terminal cancer in July 2021 in her early 30s, Amy says the dynamic switched and the Brave’s players became the ones cheering for her sister.

After the Brave’s victory at the 2022 Australian Ice Hockey League final, one player who heard what Emma was going through gifted her his hockey stick and took her onto the ice. Amy says it was a “life highlight” for Emma, who continued attending as many games as possible in between rounds of major brain surgery. But eventually she was unable to walk, talk and move.

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In the months leading up to Emma’s 35th birthday in May this year, her condition declined, but she remained determined to attend a Brave game scheduled for the same day as her birthday celebration.

“She kept trying to get up to go to the hockey, so I said to people, ‘Don’t mention hockey’. Everyone else did a great job, but then I mentioned it,” Amy laughs. “I stuffed it”.

guard of honour as a coffin is put into a hearse

The Brave’s players and community held a hockey-themed guard of honour at Emma’s funeral. Photo: Supplied.

Little did the pair know, that day the Brave recorded the entire ice rink of players and fans singing Happy Birthday to Emma.

“It floored me,” Amy remembers.

“I showed Emma and I got a smile out of her, which was happening less and less.”

Just a few days later, Amy would find herself floored once again when about 10 of the Brave’s players made a personal house call for Emma.

“It would have been really confronting. Emma’s cancer was resulting in paralysis from the waist down by that point and she was not really able to talk too much, but she recognised all of them,” Amy says.

“What we were impressed by as a family was there was no judgement. They walked in very comfortably, politely and really at ease … it was humanity at its best.

“There’s not much in life that comes close to how profound it is when you realise that this thing that this person has loved so much loves her back.”

Canberra Walk4BrainCancer walk.

Emma (three from the left in the front row) participated in the 2022 Walk4BrainCancer Canberra, which the Brave is now planning to do again in Emma’s memory in 2023. Photo: Supplied.

Emma died later that same May. The Brave’s players and other community members coordinated a memorial video for her funeral and held their hockey sticks aloft in a hockey-themed guard of honour as Emma’s coffin was placed in the back of a hearse. She was buried wearing a Brave scarf and jersey, and with the same hockey stick she had been gifted in 2022 by her side.

Emma’s story has remained top of mind for the Brave through their Hockey Fights Cancer round and support for Walk4BrainCancer Canberra in September (which Emma herself did last year).

“I am absolutely converted into an ice hockey fan,” Amy says.

“I completely understand why she loved it and was so passionate about it. It’s a phenomenal game and an exceptional community.”

Walk4BrainCancer will be held on Sunday, 24 September, from 8:30 am at the National Library of Australia. To donate, register or learn more, visit the Walk4BrainCancer event page.

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