Alyssa Malette lives in Ottawa, Ontario. For this Father’s Day, Alyssa talks about her personal hero—her Dad, Vince, who lives with dementia.
My story is about someone who has been my hero from the very beginning of my life. My Dad, Vince Malette, is 58 years old. He’s a brother, a husband to his wife Joana of 34 years, a father, a grandfather and a friend to many.
For a number of years, my Dad was also a very successful hockey coach. He was an assistant coach with the Ottawa 67’s for nine years, winning a Memorial Cup in 1999. He later went on to chase his dreams of becoming a head coach in the Ontario Hockey League. In 2006, he was hired as the head coach of the Peterborough Petes. He spent his summers holding high intensity hockey camps in the Ottawa area, developing younger players by getting them ready for their upcoming competitive tryouts.
In 2011, my Dad went on to pursue an opportunity of a lifetime: coaching the Eisbaren in Berlin, Germany. This team completed in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), one of the top four professional hockey leagues in the world.
In 2014, my Dad was about to embark on his fourth straight championship win when we noticed something changed. He seemed off. My Dad was very quiet behind the bench, and this wasn’t his coaching style. He struggled to analyze his team’s hockey videos. Analysis is one of his biggest assets as a coach—he could read the game so well. I kept thinking: “This is not the coach I know.”
I thought he was stressed, depressed or burnt out. Coaching is never an easy job: essentially you are hired to get fired anytime a team is not performing well. He was diagnosed later that year with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. You often hear stories about your friends’ grandparents who have Alzheimer’s, and these stories are absolutely heartbreaking. Learning that my Dad, at the age of 52, has Alzheimer’s was devastating and shocking to our family.
Alzheimer’s has caused my Dad’s memory and cognitive functions to deteriorate. He struggles to verbalize his thoughts and often can’t process what he wants to say. He can no longer read, write or tell time and has a hard time following instructions. Many times I find myself reading his old hockey articles and watching his past hockey interviews, and it breaks my heart more and more every time I view them. I remember how he was and it boggles my mind. How did this happen? And why is there no cure yet?
As I see him struggle with day-to-day situations, I remind myself that this is the guy who shaped me into the person I am today. He taught my sister and I how to ride our first bikes, he helped us with school projects, cheered us on in every sport we played, coached our competitive soccer teams, and was president of our competitive gymnastics club. It’s heartbreaking to know that he can no longer do the things he used to do so successfully.
However, we also know that Alzheimer’s will never take away his love for us and the love my family and I have for him. I couldn’t be prouder of how close we are as a family! We do many activities together, including exercising, taking family vacations, going on family picnics, cooking together and participating together in charity races.
My parents are high school sweethearts and have been married for 34 years. My mom is the strongest woman I know. She was his rock through his entire hockey career and now she is by his side as he battles through his journey with Alzheimer’s. Their love for each other is something I will forever look up to. Day in, day out, she’s always there, never giving up hope. They never stop laughing together and their love has only grown stronger. You can feel their love for each other.
Hockey will forever be my Dad’s passion; his dream was to someday coach in the National Hockey League. He loved coaching and enjoyed helping players develop. He was sought out by other coaches around the world for advice on different aspects of the game and for guidance on player evaluations. My Dad was well respected in the hockey community. Not the selfish type—he never bragged about his accomplishments.
Watching him as a coach and winning five hockey championships taught me to always strive to be the best I can be and follow my dreams. One day, when his two-year-old grandson Carson is old enough to play, my Dad would like to coach hockey again. I’m certain he will.
What have I learned through our Alzheimer’s journey?
- The importance of patience. It’s easy to get frustrated, but everyone has to understand that this is the disease taking over him.
- Enjoying each and every moment with my Dad and the family. Even though the journey ahead will be difficult, I will never give up on my Dad. I will keep fighting with him because he was always there for us.
- Always having a positive outlook on life. Remember to laugh at the funny moments. There’s so much to be thankful for in every day.
What’s next? Together, as a family, we’re holding our first annual “Face Off to End Alzheimer’s” golf tournament this summer. The community response has been unbelievable! We’ve already sold out the tournament with over 200 participating golfers and guests. All proceeds will be given to the Alzheimer Society in support of programs and activities for early onset Alzheimer’s.
If you would like to learn more and support the Malettes’ cause, please visit https://metcalfegolf.com/golf/ecom_v2/ecom.php?cat=101865