By Bill Finley
Eddie Olczyk’s new book, “Eddie Olczyk-Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” is about hockey and horse racing, but to call it a horse racing or a hockey book is to miss the heart beat of the tale he has to tell with co-author and TDN contributor Perry Lefko. The book covers all the bases when it comes to his two passions and the two sports in which he has carved out a career, but it really hits its stride when Olczyk recounts his brave fight against colon cancer. It is here where we find out what kind of person he truly is as Olczyk opens up about the cancer and what it took to beat it.
A revered retired hockey player and broadcaster who was brought in to be part of NBC’s horse racing coverage, Olcyzk was leading what seemed like the perfect life. That was until Aug. 4, 2017 when he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer. With no promise that he would be cured, Olcyzk agreed to undergo chemotherapy treatments , 12 treatments, each one two weeks apart. The treatments were pure hell.
“Pretty soon, the side effects had worn me down,” he wrote. “I was vomiting badly, had no control of my bowels, and had nose bleeds, headaches and neuropathy, which is coldness in the nerve endings in the fingers and feet…It was just terrible. How was I going to make it to the final treatment on February 21? I had basically had enough and wanted to pull the port out of my chest and quit.”
But Olcyzk didn’t quit. With the help of family and friends and gathering up every ounce of resolve he had, he got through the treatments and was declared cancer free after they were over.
“If it wasn’t for my family, there was no way I could have gone through this,” he wrote. “We all beat this. And I said we have done enough crying to last me a lifetime.”
Olcyzk returns to the cancer narrative in the final chapter, which is titled “Thank God I Got Sick.” It is here that he admits he contemplated suicide and that the experience changed him for the better. “Before I got sick, I thought I was in a good place in life, content and at peace with where I was,” Olcyzk writes. “So, I don’t appreciate anything more. But it reassured me I was in a good place. I was at peace because the most important people in my life knew how I felt about them.”
Olcyzk didn’t need to let the public know about his struggles or write this book, but it is part of a vow he took after beating cancer that he would be a messenger of hope for those who are going through what he went through. It’s obvious from reading the book that this is not a shallow promise, but something he will devote himself for the rest of his life.
By the time you get to the chapters that discuss his cancer, you already know that this is the type of person who might have what it takes to fight and win such a battle. Olcyzk did have a charmed life. Just 18 at the time, he began his career with his hometown Chicago Blackhawks, he played on the 1984 U.S. Olympic hockey team, won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994 and has been inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. He has become one of the most respected broadcasters in hockey and has parlayed that into a high-profile spot on the NBC horse racing broadcasts. But all his good fortune was of his own making. He worked hard to accomplish everything he has and did so with an unflagging sense of optimism and an unrelenting drive. That is why he is so well-liked within both hockey and horse racing.
The racing fan who is not into hockey might want to skim through the chapters about his life and times on the ice, which, at times, gets bogged down in recapping games and scores. There’s plenty of horse racing in this book.
Olcyzk is very much a horse racing guy. While playing, he snuck out to the racetrack every chance he got and became a serious handicapper starting with the day a father’s friend took him to Arlington Park when he was 12. He is every bit as proud of hitting a $497,000 Pick Six at Hollywood Park as he is of any goal he has scored.
Olcyzk got his start in racing broadcasting when the Meadowlands asked him to join their television team during the NHL lockout in 1994. In Twenty years later, he signed on to be part of NBC’s racing crew. Among his main duties is handicapping the races the network is covering, something he takes very seriously.
“To stand up there in front of millions of people watching the race worldwide and pick the top three felt great,” Olcyzk says of his winning trifecta selection in the 2018 GI Kentucky Derby.
His enthusiasm for the sport is clear every time he and Lefko venture away from hockey and to racing. He sums his professional role up perfectly at the end of Chapter 23, writing, “Pucks and ponies, you gotta love it.”