Cody Smuk inspires teammates in life and death
Rod Alm, who works for Athletes in Action at the University of Saskatchewan, passed along this compelling story of life transformation.
Cody Smuk was a tough, hard working forward coming out of the WHL. When he joined the University of Saskatchewan Men’s Hockey team in 2010, I invited him to attend our weekly team Chapel. Cody politely replied, “Thank you, Rod, but I won’t be coming.”
Through four years of CIS Hockey Cody was friendly but non-committal. He’d often hold open the Rutherford Rink side door while I carried in food for Chapel and cheerily say, “See you Rod. Have a good meeting.”
In May of 2014 Cody’s teammate Garrett Thiessen frantically phoned me. “Rod, you’ve got to see Cody! He’s got testicular cancer and they’ve found a lump in his lung. He’s waiting for your call.
When I met Cody that afternoon he said, “I’ve got a confession to make. I used to be a Christian. I have been angry with God since a shoulder injury when I was with the Chilliwack Bruins caused me to be passed over in the draft. Now I need God but I feel like a hypocrite. What should I do?”
We looked at the story of the Prodigal Son. I assured Cody that it’s never too late to come home to our Heavenly Father. I showed him Philip Yancey’s book “Disappointment With God” and asked, “Why did millions of people buy a book with such a name?“ He replied, “I guess there is a lot of disappointment over unmet expectations.”
Cody came back to Christ in a big way. He shared his testimony at Chapel. All his teammates attended. Cody spoke at an Athletes in Action meeting about “Handling Disappointment by Trusting in God’s Goodness”. He said, “I thank God for cancer. He practically killed me to bring me back to Christ. Please don’t wait. Give your life to Him now.” His fiancée, Stephanie Vause, told me Cody read the Bible for hours and shared with her what he found.
I was with Cody the day he died.
He was full of love as he gripped my hand. He was so weak I encouraged him to respond to my questions by squeezing my hand. I quoted 1 John 5:11-13 – “He who has the Son has life.” I asked, “Cody, do you have Jesus, the Son of God, in your heart?” He gathered his strength and gasped, “Yeah!”
I assured him that with Jesus in our lives He gives us eternal life. Death is like walking through a curtain into glory: “Cody, heaven will be fabulous! Watch for Steph and the rest of us. We’ll catch up with you soon.” Cody passed on to glory that night.
1,000 people attended Cody’s funeral June 28th. Every Junior and CIS Hockey team in the province sent a delegation. Huskies Hockey players & alumni formed the honor guard.
Men lined up at the reception to ask if we could talk. They were shaken.
My days became full with appointments. Two Huskie Hockey players gave their lives to Christ this summer and several came back to the Lord.
I met Huskie Hockey alumnus Shaun Vey for lunch. He had come to faith in Christ when he survived testicular cancer after he graduated two years ago. He said, “I am rearranging my priorities. I want to live for Christ. Can we have a Chapel for alumni?” I chuckled, “Shaun, Chapel for alumni is called ‘Church.’ Try it. You’ll like it.” He responded, “I do go to Church but I miss the guys and the discussions we had about integrating faith and life.”
I suggested that we start a Book Club for alumni beginning with Tony Dungy’s books on Christian character and leadership: “UnCommon” and “The Mentor Leader”. Shaun organized it that week. Five Huskie Hockey alumni meet over breakfast at our house the first Monday of each month. The men take turns leading the discussion.
The first morning each man shared his reason for being there. Shaun said, “Cody’s death has shaken us all to the core. I want to be a Christian man, a Christian husband and father and a Christian businessman. We should also prepare to mentor young men God will bring into our lives. Are you in?” Every man said, “Yes!”
It was my turn to speak. Choking back tears, I said, “Men, this is what I live for. If we follow through on these commitments, something good will come from Cody’s life and death. I’m in.”