Courage Award Winner Swan-Merrison Inspires All

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Courage Award Winner Swan-Merrison An Inspiration To All
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

Seventeen-year-old Preston Swan-Merrison doesn’t mince words when discussing the fact he lives with Type 1 diabetes, a disease with which he was diagnosed at age 9.

“The truth of it all is that Type 1 diabetes is a life sentence – a life where I have to depend on a vial of insulin just to keep me alive,” said the Grade 12 student at Monseigneur-Bruyè Catholic Secondary School in London. “I hate the days that I feel my diabetes has taken away my childhood. I hate it for making it almost impossible to be spontaneous and just do whatever I want. I hate it for making me scared. And I hate it because it changed me for who I thought I was and wanted to be.”

Despite the fact Preston must be aware of his blood sugar level 24/7, and for half of his life has been forced to lead a much regimented existence, this extraordinary young man has taken life by the horns. And while doing so, Preston continues to help others as a son, a brother, a friend and a mentor who inspires anyone who hears his story.

When my wife, Beth, and I decided to use LondonOntarioSports.com as a platform for launching the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award, and concurrently when we established the five pillars of the award, we could have looked at Preston as the poster child of our annual award. An old soul who faces seemingly insurmountable challenges on a daily basis, Preston stands tall in his mission to give back to others while dealing with his own struggles.

The Jeffrey Reed Courage Award allows me to tell my story of living with numerous skeletal deformities, but yet excelling in the industry of journalism and in playing many sports at an elite level. In 2001, as a 39-year-old rookie pitcher, I took the mound for the London Majors of the semi-professional Intercounty Baseball League. And today, I golf at a plus-handicap while for the past 16 years having represented numerous golf industry members as a brand ambassador.

You can read my story, Diamond Dream, at https://jeffreyreedreporting.com/speaking.htm.

Preston Swan-Merrison

For a fifth year, Southwestern Ontario athletes – 35 this year – nominated themselves for the Courage Award with a 1,000-word essay, and Preston’s was outstanding. On May 1, LondonOntarioSports.com will present him with a $1,000 cheque and a commemorative plaque.

The Jeffrey Reed Courage Award encourages you to dream big and never stop dreaming; work with mentors and mentor others; learn from failure; give 100 per cent at all times; and never quit.

There is no quit in Preston Swan-Merrison. Despite living with Type 1 diabetes, he’s a former football and hockey player with the London Jr. Mustangs, a Jr. Knights hockey grad and currently a goaltender with the Jr. C Lucan Irish and backup netminder with the Jr. B Chatham Maroons. Most teenaged hockey players compete for fun, while the elite play for the eyes of major junior, college and professional scouts.

But Preston takes his passion for hockey to another level, using the sport to raise awareness of Type 1 diabetes. Already a well-known advocate for diabetes education, research and fundraising, “Swanny,” as he is recognized by friends and social media followers, took part in the inaugural World Diabetes Day Dskate Hockey Classic Nov. 13-15 at the Canlan Ice York facility at York University.

The Dskate Hockey Program, founded by Steven Hindle who grew up in a Type 1 household, focuses on helping young hockey players and parents recognize the value of nutrition and exercise. Players with Type 1 diabetes aged 7 to 17 register for camps twinning diabetes and nutrition education with hockey.

The inaugural Dskate London 2020 at Thompson Recreation Centre August 3-7 will extend the great work being done by this program – click here for details https://londonontariosports.com/minor/hockey/dskate-london-registration-open/.

November’s Dskate Hockey Classic involved more than 200 boys and girls and their families, and included a three-day tournament, skills combine, sharing of life experiences and education sessions. Preston attended with his father, Jason, while his mother, Josie, and sister Jasmine, 14, cheered him on back home where he has already earned a deserved reputation as an overachiever and an inspiration to all.

Diagnosis Changed His Life

By the time Preston started playing competitive hockey at age 14, his life had already changed because of Type 1 diabetes.

“Being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes was a life-changing moment,” he explained. “Embracing this life-long disease was a new way of life for me and my family. I had to change how I ate, and there was so much more responsibility in everything. I need to make sure I keep my levels balanced, like treating low blood sugars at night. In the middle of the night sometimes I’ll drop, and at 2 a.m. have to test my blood sugar and have a snack. It’s a 24/7 job. You can’t take any breaks from it.”

Preston representing London as a legislative page at Queen’s Park in 2016

In addition to living with Type 1 diabetes, Preston has a learning disorder: Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), which affects up to five per cent of school-aged children. These students have difficulty processing the information they hear and are usually characterized as “poor listeners.” They have normal hearing ability, but there is a disconnect between what is heard and what is understood. These children’s brains interpret sounds differently than those of others.

“This was just another battle I knew I could conquer,” Preston said.

At age 11, while attending a summer camp for children with epilepsy (Jasmine has epilepsy), Preston met author/artist Aaron Bengall and convinced him to write a 2014-published children’s book on Type 1 diabetes. That book, Preston’s Big Game, published in English and in French, uses a hockey game to explain how diabetes affects the body.

For example, in the book, Team Swanny plays hockey on top of a cell with a puck made of sugar, and wants to score in order to energize the body.

“I remember getting diagnosed and not having much information written for someone my age,” Preston explained, “so I asked, what if we wrote something more advanced and involved hockey, so I could talk about the struggles and symptoms? I sat down with the author, it all came together.”

Last year, Preston became a two-time author. Students from Mme Bénéteau’s advanced Spanish class at Monseigneur-Bruyère set up displays at Beacock Branch and Central Library to raise awareness about Type 1 diabetes. The display focused on their newly-published dual language book, The Big Button Saves the Day / El gran botón salva el día, created as a class project with author Aaron Bengall. Students wrote, translated into Spanish, and illustrated the book that uses a story about a soccer game to explain how insulin treats diabetes.

Awards are nothing new to Preston. A Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) Youth Ambassador, Preston was one of 13 teens to receive the 2015 Ontario Junior Citizen of the Year award from Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Dowdeswell.

“As JDFR ambassador, I went to Ottawa as an advocate at Parliament Hill where we met with politicians and asked for more funding. And I gave talks too, which was cool. And it was a great opportunity to win the Citizen of the Year award. That was amazing,” said Preston, who for the past few years has been a member of Member of Parliament for London West Kate Young’s youth council.

For the past seven years, Preston has run a Socktober fundraiser seeking socks for homeless people and those in need. And he has organized an awareness event for epilepsy.

Preston (third from left) with his Lucan Irish teammates at their 2019 Christmas dinner.

Said Preston, “Diabetes made me a stronger person. One year after my sister was diagnosed with epilepsy after having a massive seizure at school, I decided it was time to educate the student body about seizure first aid. It was important to teach others what to do, and to not be afraid. We needed to break down the stigma associated with epilepsy.

“I feel that my strength in fighting diabetes allowed me to be strong for Jasmine and to support her during this tough time. It made me realize that anything can happen in life – to anyone – and that God only gives us what we can handle!” he said.

Preston said he’s already looking forward to attending the Dskate summer camp where he’ll again fill the role of ambassador and mentor.

“Dskate offers an amazing experience. You learn to manage sports with Type 1 diabetes. And you meet other athletes who face the same struggles as you. It’s a great community, and you form strong relationships,” he said.

As a youngster, Preston was mentored by former London Knights star Max Domi, now with the Montreal Canadiens, who also has Type 1 diabetes. It was Domi, author of the new book, No Days Off, who convinced Preston to wear his insulin pump while tending net. (Ed. Note: read our review of No Days Off here https://londonontariosports.com/specialty/reviews/book-review-no-days-off-by-max-domi/.

Preston is now preparing for life after high school, and is considering both Western University and the University of Ottawa. He’s interested in law enforcement and in teaching. But no matter what his future holds, Swanny said he’ll continue to inspire others.

Preston Swan-Merrison

“Don’t give up, just keep pushing through,” he said. “I’m making the most of what got handed to me. I made a book. From that first initiative I kept moving forward, and it has made me a stronger person and has given me more opportunities.

“I’ve been told along the way that with all of my struggles, I would never go to university,” he said. “Well, they were wrong. Here I am! I may not be the top student, but I have worked hard and have pushed through. I haven’t let anyone or anything stop me. My future is bright!”

Preston said after learning about the Jeffrey Reed Courage Award, he knew right away that he believes in what it stands for, and what it does to inspire others.

“The Jeffrey Reed Courage Award is everything I believe in,” he said. “I am someone who has learned from my many failures and challenges, and I have never stopped following my dreams, even when I felt like quitting was the only answer. Instead, I have been able to give back and find strength in others which, in return, has helped me in this journey we call life.”

Preston’s life is only beginning, yet he has already accomplished what some do during their entire lives. There is certainly no quit in this fighter – a champion for Type 1 diabetes and so many other causes, an outstanding athlete brave enough to stop pucks between the pipes, and a son, a brother, a friend and a mentor.

LondonOntarioSports.com is proud to recognize Preston Swan-Merrison with the 2020 Jeffrey Reed Courage Award.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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