Canadian snowboarder Max Parrot had a secret weapon when it came to training for the X Games in Norway last month: his high-energy Australian shepherd, Loup, who just loves to run.
“He actually helps me do more mountain biking because he loves running, so we go up and down the mountain,” said Parrot, who won a silver medal at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
The 25-year-old from Bromont, Que., was diagnosed with Hodgkinʼs lymphoma last December, a blood cancer that affects white blood cells in the lymphatic system, and while it can affect anyone at any age and fitness levels – even elite athletes – it’s more common among people 15 to 30 years old. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC), more than 43,300 Canadians are living with or are in remission from either Hodgkin’s lymphoma or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. And while Hodgkin’s lymphoma is serious, it is one of the most curable blood cancers.
Symptoms can include persistent fatigue, night sweats and painless swelling of the lymph nodes. Parrot’s symptoms included an incessant itch that began in September, 2018, followed by the discovery of a lump on his neck.
The Olympic athlete was diagnosed with early-stage cancer and after surgery, went through six months of chemotherapy with 12 sessions, which finished in June. With permission from his doctors, Parrot began rebuilding his strength so he could start competing again.
“My doctor told me on July 8th that I was cancer free and I could start training again,” Parrot says. “Since they know Iʼm a professional athlete, they know I might be training harder than others because thatʼs the only thing I have to do every day. So they made me pass some more tests just to make sure the chemo didnʼt affect anything else in my body.”
Rebuilding his strength and cardiovascular health has been a process, but working toward the competition in Norway gave the Olympian the motivation he needed to get better and back on his board.
“He was like a little kid at Christmas, which makes sense since the cancer took him from his passion for seven months,” says Jean François Ménard, Parrot’s sport psychologist.
Max Parrot won silver in the men's snowboard slopestyle event at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“They announced there would be an X Games when I was mid-treatment and it became my motivation because normally my season would only start in November,” Parrot says. “It was a personal need for me to come back on my board quicker, end treatments and get back to training as fast as possible.”
In May, while Parrot was still going through treatment, it was announced that he would partner with the LLSC on its annual October event Light The Night Walk, which unites the blood cancer community in celebration, remembrance and hope. At the time, Parrot said the partnership with LLSC was “deeply personal” and that he wished “to raise as much money and awareness as possible for blood cancer research and programs that assist patients and their families. My goal is to inspire Canadians to support this cause until we find a cure.”
Although his relationship with his health has changed, now Parrot is now back to a regular schedule that sees him training six days a week. “I go to the gym maybe two to three times a week and after that I go on the trampoline and an airbag [landing pad] three, four times a week [to practise flips]. The days he’s not in the gym he’s mountain biking, playing tennis or golfing with friends.
Parrot had one goal while in Norway: winning gold. “I don’t think it will be a problem to go out there and compete,” he said in late July. “The gold is going to be a big task for me but everything is possible.” Like his cancer, the Canadian snowboarder came out victorious in Norway — back at the top of the podium with his gold medal.
For more information about blood cancers and to participate in Light The Night Walk, register at LightTheNight.ca.
As seen in the Globe and Mail on September 9, 2019