By IAN WILSON
The ongoing story of the Snow family has several plotlines and it explores many themes.
Words like “strength” and “courage” and “resilience” come up, as they should. The world of sports features prominently for the family, particularly hockey and baseball.
For those unfamiliar with the Snow family being referenced here it is the married couple, Chris and Kelsie, and their children, son Cohen and daughter Willa.
The quartet were thrust into the spotlight after Chris was diagnosed in 2019 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a rare and terminal motor neuron affliction also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Chris had already made a name for himself in the hockey world by this point, working as a journalist covering the Minnesota Wild before the team offered him a position as director of hockey operations in 2006.
The Calgary Flames came calling in 2011 and Chris rose through the ranks of the organization. The Syracuse University grad took on several roles with the club, including director of video and statistical analysis, assistant general manager and vice-president of data and analytics.
It was his determination in the face of ALS and the grace displayed by the Snow family in the aftermath of the diagnosis, however, that captured hearts well beyond the hockey world.
They embodied the concept that life isn’t about what happens to you, it’s how you respond to what happens.
While Chris was a respected figure around the National Hockey League (NHL), the origin story of the Snow family took place at the ballpark.
Chris and Kelsie provided another example, and a convincing one, about being romantic about baseball.
No, the game didn’t arm the Snows with dignity or endurance, but it did give them a setting and a starting point for a tale of true love.
Kelsie chronicled this romance in the Boston Globe newspaper, after the Snows journeyed to Fenway Park in the summer of 2021 so family members could throw out the ceremonial first pitch before a Red Sox game.
“When I was 21 years old, I fell in love at Fenway Park. I didn’t meet my husband in the stands or the beer line or during a shared smile over ‘Sweet Caroline.’ Instead, we fell in love in the press box. In the summer of 2005, I was a 21-year-old intern in the Globe sports department, and Chris Snow was the 23-year-old, newly minted Red Sox beat writer. We first met at the White Horse Tavern on Brighton Avenue in Allston, where my fellow Globe intern and roommate for the summer, Adam Kilgore, introduced us. It wasn’t long before Chris started driving me to Fenway. Adam noted subtly, ‘Snow has never offered me a ride to work,'” wrote Kelsie on the front page of the Sept. 28th, 2021 edition of the newspaper.
“Last month — 16 years, two kids, and one terminal diagnosis later — we went back. We walked the hallways, hugged writer friends, and stood in front of the cameras instead of next to them. I pointed out the media dining room to Cohen, 10, and Willa, 7, telling them their dad and I had some of our first ‘dates’ there in between filing pregame stories and first pitch. We thought we’d done a good job of hiding our budding romance until one day someone in the Red Sox media relations department changed my byline from Kelsie Smith (my maiden name) to Kelsie Snow in the daily clips they staple to the game notes. How’s that for foreshadowing?”
Added Kelsie in the Globe article: “The summer I met Chris was the best one of my life. My days were filled with work and writing and learning from some of the greats in the business. My time off was filled with new friends and exploring a new city.”
“I fell in love with the city, the history, the architecture, the sailboats filling the Charles on a sunny summer day, the streets that dead-end without warning, and then I fell in love with Chris. He was funny and passionate, he laughed easily, and he made even a mundane outing seem like the most exciting event in the world. He was also brash and confident in a way that people I grew up around just aren’t. He was, in my estimation, the best thing about this beautiful place I was living. Almost immediately, home, for me, became wherever he was.”
Kelsie wrote about their engagement and their career paths. When Chris took a job with the Wild, she landed a role covering the Minnesota Twins for the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Cohen and Willa entered the picture shortly after, as did a move to Calgary and a position for Chris with the Flames.
Following the ALS diagnosis, Kelsie described the family as “gutted but not hopeless.” Chris joined a promising clinical trial, a decision which extended his life well beyond the 6-12 month timeline doctors told him he had left to live.
In 2021, the Snows made plans to return to Massachusetts, where Chris grew up, for his 40th birthday and “to the ballpark that has been a thread woven throughout his life.” In addition to covering the Red Sox beat for the Globe, Chris sold lemonade at baseball games when he was 16 years old. It was his first job.
“ALS has taken Chris’s dominant hand, and his ability to smile, make facial expressions, and swallow most foods. It has changed his voice and how he eats,” wrote Kelsie.
“It has not taken his determination, his positivity, his resolve, or his resilience. On social media, people often use the hashtag SnowyStrong in posts about him, and I know unequivocally that he is SnowyStrong because first he was BostonStrong.”
The Globe story described in detail the tender moments surrounding the ceremonial first pitch that preceded the game.
“I saw him fill his lungs with that distinct Boston sea-salt, city air and look up at the suite full of our friends and family waiting to cheer us on. I watched him fist-bump Sox manager Alex Cora, who was a player on the teams Chris covered when he was at the Globe. I listened to him talk to Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder, who came over from the opposing team’s dugout to say how much Chris inspires him. And I stood next to him as we posed for a selfie with Red Sox president Sam Kennedy, who mentioned he wanted to send the photo to Theo Epstein, who was the general manager when Chris covered the team and who has been an incredible friend and supporter since Chris was diagnosed,” noted Kelsie.
“We stood on the first base line for the national anthem, and I watched Cohen and Willa standing in front of us, singing along, their hats pressed against their hearts. I put my arm around Chris. I told myself, in the way that you do when you are aware of how precious moments like this are, to be present, to remember, to soak it all in.”
“I watched the people watch Chris. It’s a privilege to witness a miracle unfolding every day in front of your own eyes, and that’s what Chris is — a miracle. As we walked to the mound and all around the stadium, people stood to cheer, I knew they understood that, too.”
After watching her children deliver pitches, Kelsie recounted her husband’s moment on the mound.
“Chris, a converted lefty, took the ball. What he did with it, I knew, didn’t matter. He’d already won,” she wrote.
“Two years ago, when I thought about this milestone birthday, I pictured wheelchairs and breathing machines and a host of medical devices keeping Chris alive, and that was if he made it to 40 at all. Instead, here he was, walking to the mound, filling his lungs with air, picking up a ball and throwing a first pitch. After, we walked down the third base line, and as we did, the people stood. They touched their hearts and pointed to us. They raised their fists in solidarity. They clapped and cheered. Again, I watched my husband. I saw the tears in his eyes, the appreciation in his heart … on that day, in that great ballpark, he reclaimed one very important thing. On that day, he remembered where he is from.”
Chris also shared his thoughts on his return to Fenway Park with his former employer.
“It means everything,” he told Globe reporter Alex Speier.
“It’s a homecoming and it’s a triumph … to do this, to walk in here, it feels so, so good.”
In Speier’s article Kelsie discussed the importance of her family’s role in ALS research.
“We have to keep working really hard. There are more drugs in the clinical trial pipeline right now for ALS than there have ever been. If we can help people under- stand this disease and see what it does to people, I always say this is one of the reasons why I write, why I have my podcast. If you need a personal connection to this disease to care about it, I’m offering up my family. Care about our family. Be invested for our family so we can get enough people on board here to help us make real headway and make this a disease you can live with instead of die from,” said Kelsie.
The Boston visit made a major impression on the Red Sox players, including starting pitcher Chris Sale, who lost his grandmother to ALS.
Sale invited the Snows back to Fenway so he could meet the clan more than a week after the ceremonial first pitch.
“I wanted to meet him because he’s the first person to ever do something like this with the treatment that he’s getting,” Sale said in an MLB.com article by Ian Browne.
“What he’s doing is groundbreaking enough as it is. I wanted to show my respect. Some other 6-year-old’s grandma is going to get this. That kid is going to get their grandmother for a little bit longer because of what he’s doing.”
“I wanted to obviously thank him and meet him. He’s a beautiful person. A great family man. It meant a lot to me. He says it meant a lot to him. It meant more to me.”
When Chris Snow passed away on Sept. 30th, at the age of 42, the loss was felt deeply by people in baseball, hockey and, of course, anyone who was touched by his energy and passion. His lasting impact and the endearing endurance of the Snows are inspirational.
Friends and family will gather to honour his life and legacy on Oct. 12th at St. Michael Catholic Community in Calgary. Donations in support of ALS research can be made through the SnowyStrong campaign.