It was a university football team full of character, and characters! They came from everywhere to play at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and it was amazing that they formed such a tight unit. There were Jr football players from the West, guys from Gr. 13 in Ontario, athletes that came from CEGEP system in Quebec who spoke little English, and of course some Maritimers to make the melting pot complete. They became dominant in Canada, winning elusive back-to-back Vanier Cup national championships in 2001 and 2002.
Jean-Michel Sylvain was one of those SMU Huskies. He was born in Haiti and grew up in Montreal – a CEGEP football athlete. He wore #61 and played Offensive Line, ultimately being recognized as an All-Canadian and finalist for the Metras Trophy (for outstanding down lineman). Jean led by example, always one of the hardest workers, and always positive. A man of few words, if he decided to give advice it was heeded by vets and rookies. He was a captain on a team which went on to set scoring records that are yet to be broken. He graduated in Commerce and went on to marry his Nova Scotian university sweetheart, Trilby. [That was a long wedding with everything done in English and French!] Jean coached HS football, and worked in Finance, but his most important job was husband to Trilby, and “Papa” to their two beautiful children: daughter Callia (now 8), and son Kaelen (5).
Then the unthinkable. Jean-Michel was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer: osteosarcoma, similar to what Terry Fox had. His extended family came together to celebrate his 40th birthday, and Jean-Michel began the battle in earnest. A little over a year later, the prognosis was not good and the news spread quickly. His teammates came to Halifax from all over to visit Jean at the hospital, resulting in the most heart-warming series of photos; lots of love and laughs shared. The neighbors rallied and took turns making meals to feed Trilby, the kids and extended family as they began to come from Ontario and Quebec. Former teammates collected to do landscaping at the house – things Jean could not do from the hospital. This team of Huskies had a slogan that they would chant as they ran onto the field: “One go, we all go! One go, we ALL go!”, and they were living that slogan for Jean-Michel.
In early May Jean-Michel and Trilby were told it would be just days remaining. Many of the immediate family had come but a few of the closest cousins and in-laws could not afford the trip. Give A Mile was able to step in and help. Jean-Michel was moved to palliative care and flights of compassion were quickly arranged, from Montreal and New Jersey. Brother-in-law Reggie was the last to arrive; Jean very much wanted to see him. They had a visit in the morning of May 21st and within hours Jean Michel Sylvain lost the battle, with wife Trilby at his bedside. Farewell, Jean-Michel.
The family has expressed their gratitude to Give A Mile repeatedly, amazed such a group exists that could bring people together to share love, hugs, and good-byes. Help us continue to provide those flights by donating unused travel and other loyalty points, cash, bitcoins; by volunteering with Give A Mile; or by attending Give A Mile events like Picnic in the Park on June 5th with a bouncy house, feature food trucks, crafts, and a petting zoo.