09/24/2014 11:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Light at the End of the Tunnel May Be You

My teacher and coach at the Groton School, Jon Choate, once asked me if I ever stopped to think about my impact on other people. It was a deep and profound question that I could not fathom with my mental and emotional maturity as a prep school student at the time.

Back then, I was too busy with puberty, playing sports (hockey, football and baseball) and trying to pass exams to contemplate such a weighty question. I was far too young to think about things such as how the true measure of our character is what we do for others and how intrinsic rewards are far more satisfying than tangible ones.

Nevertheless, I found Mr. Choate's question to be a fascinating one. It has haunted me ever since he asked it those many years ago. I cannot truthfully say that I contemplate it at great length on a daily basis -- everyday life has a way of ruling the roost -- but I do try to take pause to reflect. I try to think about others that I meet, if only for a fleeting second. Could I have done something to make a positive impact, no matter how small it may have been?

I am currently in Kazan, Russia. I participated in a Legends All-Star Game along with the likes of Alexei Yashin, Andrei "the Tank" Kovalenko, Milan Novy and others who once graced the ice in the National Hockey League and/or major international hockey tournaments. I participate in multiple such events per year, both in North America and Europe.

The games and get-togethers are always fun, but one is very much like the next and the one before. What makes this time memorable to me had nothing to do with anything that happened on the ice.

Before the game, I got the privilege of stopping by and saying hello to some really wonderful kids; the toughest people that you could ever or would ever meet. These kids are all guests of Children's Hospital in Kazan, staying at the Ronald McDonald House. I was told that folks like myself, Andrei and Milan could help brighten their day. Well, maybe we did that but they sure touched our hearts.

My buddies Rusylan and Artum and me.

Today, I can't get Jon Choate's question out of my mind. I think I am finally starting to figure out what my impact is and why I have lasted so long in this sport and this world after being counted out by others more times than I care to remember or count.

Choatie, I found my answer yesterday in the eyes of a tiny little guy named Rusylan. I am here because I am meant to be with him, those other kids like him and their families. After I went through stage three cancer and survived, I am here to show them that if I could get through all the chemotherapy, the surgery, the pain, the fatigue, the anxiety for my family and those anguishing moments of doubt, they can do it, too. Rusylan is too strong of heart and soul to do anything less than fight that fight for all he can.

Spending time with Ruslyan and the other kids gives ME a reason to keep going. It gives me a new reason for hope and faith.

As a teacher -- and I know you know this, along with all who undertake that most noble of callings -- some seeds that are planted take a little longer than others. Choatie, it's been a very long road to get to the answer to your question, but I think it has been worth the trip.


Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

Stewart's writings can also be found on every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. He is currently working with a co-author in writing an autobiography.