Nearly five years after some fist bumps turned him into a viral sensation, and six years after beating leukemia, Liam Fitzgerald and his family have continued to use that moment to help raise money and awareness for good causes.
It was in Nov. 2014 when Liam was spotted on the TD Garden Jumbotron and was then invited to be on the Boston Bruins’ bench for warmups. As each player skated off the ice, eight-year-old Liam handed out fist bumps on their way to the dressing room. The video went viral and Fitzgerald was soon everywhere.
The Boston sports teams embraced Liam and welcomed him to their stadiums for once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like giving New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a fist bump. There was an ESPN E:60 profile and he was even given his own hockey card from Upper Deck.
These days Liam is a 13-year-old teenager who stays busy with football, basketball and swimming, but hockey remains No. 1 in his heart. He says he wants to be a broadcaster when he gets older, or work in sports in some capacity, and that his favorite play-by-play announcer is NBC’s own ‘Doc’ Emrick.
Patrice Bergeron is Liam’s favorite Bruin and the Fitzgeralds were there in February for his 1,000th NHL game celebration. That favorite player title was previously held by Adam McQuaid. For Halloween in 2013, Liam dressed as the defenseman, and the two met a few months later after a game before he became a viral sensation.
Liam is still every bit the celebrity these days whenever he’s at a Bruins game, or even out to dinner with his family.
“He’s pretty much still recognizable in the hockey world, even walking through the North End where it’s a real hockey community,” said Liam’s mom, Christine. “We’ve been in there for dinner and people have stopped him.”
The beneficiaries of Liam’s viral fame were a number of charities and causes. In 2015 he was named the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Man of the Year” after raising over $152,000 in just 10 weeks. The Fitzgeralds have also raised money for UMass Memorial Medical Center, where Liam was treated after being diagnosed with leukemia at age 3. Then there’s Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress and Cradles to Crayons, which saw Liam give up receiving gifts for his birthday and run a drive that collected 642 pairs of pajamas and $1,065 for children in need.
“It feels good,” said Liam about helping other kids. “I like donating some stuff to other children when they need it.”
The family has certainly been keeping busy.
“Busy in a good way,” said Christine. “I can’t say enough about giving back. That’s one thing if you look at the Bruins and the hockey community they’re both great on and off the ice. They do so much in the community and so much for so many it makes you want to be a better person and do the same thing.”
While life can be hectic, these experiences have allowed the Fitzgeralds to help plenty of people in need and allow sports to assist Liam as he battled through adversity at such a young age,.
“[T]he good thing about it is it’s taken some things in our lives that have been challenging and given us and the Bruins and others a platform to increase awareness for Down syndrome and learning disabilities, as well childhood cancer, which is huge,” said Christine. “Also, I think it’s incredibly important to think about the role sports plays in the lives of people and that [Liam’s] story teaches a lot of that — that he may not ever be able to be a hockey player because he can’t really skate well, but boy, can he participate in sports and boy, has hockey had a huge impact on him growing up.
“The hockey community, there’s just nothing like it.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.