On July 12 at the age of 21, Jeffery Perry achieved one of his life-long dreams.
Perry notched three goals and three assists in Team Canada’s 7-4 gold-medal win over the U.S. during the U23 International roller in-line hockey championships July 8 to 12 in Corona, California.
“It was a big weight off my shoulders, I’ve been trying to play for Team Canada for quite a few years and I’ve always looked up to people who played for Team Canada,” said the defenceman and Colwood resident, who also helped the men’s division capture gold in the same tournament.
“It was a pretty emotional thing to go and actually feel like you won something that meant so much for so many people who didn’t even have a shot to put on a jersey.”
Hoisting the cup with Team Canada has been a goal of Perry’s for years, but was one he never thought he would achieve, as he was fighting a disease that sidelined him from the sport for years.
Growing up, Perry first picked up a hockey stick when he was five years old and started playing with the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association.
When he was eight years old, he played roller hockey in the spring and summer months.
But when Perry was 12 years old, things started to change. He was always tired, threw up whatever he ate, had no appetite, and started losing weight, dropping from 100 pounds to 70.
In September 2009, Perry was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, a bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive track, which can lead to abdominal pain, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition.
“I was happy. We knew what it was and what we had to do next,” Perry said about the diagnosis. “I never got negative about anything, it was basically picking and choosing what path I wanted to take.”
Shortly after, Perry went to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver where once a month for five years he received treatment in the form of an infusion. He also had a nasal gastric tube put in that goes through his nose into his stomach to help him eat. He later had surgery to put in a stomach tube.
During that time, Perry’s ice hockey teammates began to hit growth spurts, and playing a full contact sport against athletes who were 6’2” and 6’3” and weighed more than 200 pounds, became dangerous for Perry who was a mere 4’7”. He then made the difficult decision to stop playing.
After a year of treatment, Perry started to notice a difference in his health. He was finally starting to grow taller and gain weight and began to feel like himself. But he stayed away from ice hockey and instead started playing roller hockey again.
Perry would load his gear into a trailer attached to his bike and ride to the rink at City Centre Park in Langford, where he would spend hours practicing. Perry noted Gerry St. Cyr at the Eagle Ridge Arena allowed him to use the rink anytime he wanted.
“[My love for hockey] goes back to the time I was sick, that’s the only thing I wanted to do. It makes you forget what’s really going on and you just live in the moment,” Perry said.
“With the adrenaline rush, you don’t feel any pain. You’re not thinking about what happened before the game or what was going to happen after, you’re just trapped in that hour or so that you’re playing.”
Nine years later he still takes medication for the disease to help keep him energized and his appetite up. Perry has grown to roughly 5”8 and 169 pounds. In September 2016, he started playing professional hockey in Spain before getting the call to play with Team Canada.
During the U23 championships, alongside Cory Hatcher, a fellow West Shore product, Team Canada tied their first round robin game against USA East, but went on to defeat Hawaii and USA West. In the semi-finals, the team defeated Hawaii before moving on and defeating Team USA West in the finals.
Perry wasn’t the only one to compete at the championships. Sixteen-year-old Christian Orlowski competed with Team Canada in the U16 tournament and brought home gold after defeating USA West 3-0.
“It was surreal, a dream come true, especially to beat the USA like that, it was the classic rivalry,” said Orlowski, who normally plays forward but was put in a defensive role throughout the tournament. “When the buzzer went and our team threw our gloves and stuff, it was just awesome.”