Seven-year-old Riley and his family have just returned from his dream trip to Florida, made possible by Make-A-Wish Canada and supporters of Cochrane's Kimmett Cup.
Going to Disney World, Animal Kingdom, Legoland, and a visit with the cast of The Lion King after viewing a performance were among the highlights. By far, though, the biggest thrill was being able to fulfill his greatest wish to visit SeaWorld and watch real-life dolphins and orcas.
Once there, he didn't hesitate to head straight to the splash zones. First up was a chance to see the orcas.
"I was trying to get wet with Brody (his older brother), so I went down to the spot. I put my hand on it, and the whale went "pfft" and it splashed my whole family. I knew I had to go down there."
His mom Kathy says they were soaked head to toe and loved every minute of it.
"We have the most fantastic photo of him just completely soaked with his favourite stuffed animal (a dolphin) that he has hung on to for three years waiting for this. It was really great to see. It was just an incredible memory we'll never forget, especially him."
Afterward, he got to see the dolphins do jumps, spins, and flips.
Riley was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect when he was two and bravely faced open-heart surgery a few weeks before his fifth birthday.
As the Wish Kid Ambassador for this weekend's Kimmett Cup, Riley will be participating in the KImmett Cup's puck drop ceremony on Saturday at 11 a.m. as well as the evening banquet.
It was the organization Heart Beat in Calgary that made the family aware of how Make-A-Wish provides experiences and opportunities for children on medical journeys like Riley.
They were referred by their medical team and Riley's wish was quickly approved. But like many other families, they had to wait and imagine what their trip would look while the pandemic took its course.
"We finally told him a month before that our wish was about to happen, and he was over the moon excited. He never lost hope that he was going to go to Disney World and Sea World. He never wanted to waiver from that experience and that's how we knew that this wish was going to be the one he really wanted."
Providing hope is essential for children with critical illness, say Make-A-Wish officials. Its life-changing power is unlocked when wishes like Riley's are granted.
Kathy couldn't agree more.
"It was a completely overwhelming and an amazing experience from start to finish," she says. "I can't imagine another time when we've laughed so much as a family, and just been so happy and worry-free. We can't thank Make-A-Wish enough for allowing us that opportunity to just bond and enjoy each moment without any worries, and truly have a happy family vacation."
There were other little perks from the trip that Riley talked about.
"I got lots of ice cream. Kids could get ice cream for breakfast, dinner, and lunch!"
Then, there were two visits to the cockpit on the five-hour flight to Florida.
"The flight attendants were so cute with him and both boys got to go up. They got to speak with the pilot, they had so many questions, and they were wearing their Make-a-Wish shirts and just felt so special. Riley was grinning ear-to-ear and that started the trip. It was one amazing moment after another for the whole week."
The family is looking forward to the Kimmett Cup. As it turns out, hockey is the favourite sport of their entire family. Riley plays for the Stars and he occasionally plays here with his team.
He also enjoys lacrosse, use to play soccer, and has plenty of other interests.
Make-A-Wish thanks the organizers, participants, and donors of the Kimmett Cup for helping to grant Riley's wish.