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From the Rafter: "You Never Know How Close You Are" - The Story of David Rutherford

"The events in his life have allowed him to develop an immense passion for the game which has fueled his motivation to be an elite athlete. David hopes that in sharing his story, others experiencing personal challenges can find comfort that they aren't in it alone."

David, Kelly and Tracy Rutherford.
David, Kelly and Tracy Rutherford.
Tracy Rutherford
When you experience the loss of a loved one, it opens your eyes to how precious life is. You act more consciously and thoughtfully towards others because you never know if it's the last time you will interact with them.

August 13th, 2003 was the last time David Rutherford spoke to his father, Kelly. David recalls this moment with clarity because he was wishing his parents goodnight and accidentally said "goodbye" to his father. When David awoke the next day, he found that his father had passed away in the night. Having said "goodbye" that night has always felt like a strange irony. It’s lead him to believe that everything happens for a reason. In David’s life, this seems to be an underlying theme that started in his childhood.

When David was young, he could be found stickhandling or playing ball hockey with friends after school. He grew up on a large property where his immediate family lived. His grandparents developed an outdoor ice pad that could be used as a small ice rink in the winter. They referred to it as an ice arena even though it was a small area. It was a regularity to find David working on his hockey skills in the ice arena every day. As he matured, his love for hockey grew deeper and by the age of 16, hockey had become a safe-haven from the outside world. Life at home was difficult for David ages 10 through 16 because his father was diagnosed with skin cancer. David observed that even when the cancer treatments resulted in adverse side effects, his father had an unwavering mental strength to push through. He remembers asking his father why he continued to undergo chemotherapy because the treatments made him violently ill. His father explained that, "you never know how close you are to making something work." This phrase has become a cornerstone of how David envisions his ambitions.

Photo Credit to Press Eye. (Edited image taken from on the DJR91 App)

David’s utmost ambition was to play in the NHL. While pursuing this dream he played in the ECHL from 2008 to 2015. Of the many highlights in his professional career, the most notable include winning championships for Shreveport in the CHL, and the Florida Everblades of the ECHL. The closest David came to making his NHL debut was playing for the Charlotte Checkers of the AHL in 2012. Reflecting upon his career thus far, David has come to the realization that the NHL may not be in the cards for him but he is excited about where hockey has taken him.

In 2015 David took his hockey career overseas, signing a contract with the Edinburgh Capitals of the EIHL. Halfway through the season with the Capitals, he was picked up by the Belfast Giants organization and since then has felt at home. David will be the first to admit that he didn't know what to expect playing overseas. He felt conflicted by the thought of leaving friends and family behind in Canada but is grateful to have taken a risk to play internationally.

The desire to continue his career abroad looks like a promising possibility for David, as he most recently signed an extension with the Belfast Giants for the 2016 - 2017 season. He is quite reflective about his hockey journey and feels that despite not making it to the NHL, he has come farther than many athletes in his field. After joining the Giants last season, the city of Belfast began to feel like home for David after a mere two months. He finds the city, his teammates, sponsor, coaches and supporters to be unbelievable. David feels like he's currently living his dream playing pro in the EIHL. It is important to mention that anyone chasing their dreams, doesn't do so alone.

Photo Credit to Press Eye.

David’s grandparents were some of his biggest supporters growing up. They attended all of his home games and would support by watching online streams for away games. He remembers calling his grandfather, Dave Dawson after games on the road if he played well. If David didn't feel great about his play, he would use a rule that his dad implemented. The rule being, if David was upset about a game, he couldn't talk about it for 24 hours. So, after games that didn't go well, his grandfather and him didn't talk about hockey. In many ways, David’s grandfather stepped up and acted as a father figure. The pair did almost everything together. Aside from his grandparents, David’s mother Tracy Rutherford, is arguably his biggest supporter. David has developed a very close bond with his mother over the years, especially after Kelly passed away.

David’s parents, met in 1978 and fell in love shortly after. The two were engaged after knowing each other for 5 short days and decided to get married after 7. After saying their vows to one another they spent 23 years together and were described as an absolutely inseparable team. Throughout their relationship they both helped each other through personal struggles. The vows, "in sickness and in health", and "til death do us part" truly encompass the love and commitment they shared.

One of Kelly’s final wishes was that he didn't want to die in a hospital, so the Rutherford’s had a bed set up in their family home. David’s mom was Kelly’s support system up until his last breath and it wouldn't have been any different if they were in each other's shoes. In fact, cancer wasn't the only adversity that David's parents had faced together. When David's parents first met, Tracy was receiving treatment for a severe eating disorder. Kelly is a big reason why she survived.

Photo Credit to Press Eye. (Edited image taken from on the DJR91 App)

David’s mother was admitted to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota from 1976 - 1978 for treatment of anorexia. When she was registered at the hospital she weighed in at 58 lbs and was experiencing hair loss. Her health had also deteriorated to the point that her teeth had begun to fall out. She was under hospital care and treatment for the next two years because her life was in danger. When Tracy was healthy enough to be released from hospital care, her father decided to take her out fishing in Campbell River. It was a last minute fishing trip and there was only one fishing guide remaining. It turned out he was a terrible fishing guide, which was why no one had booked him for their trips.

The mediocre fisherman happened to be Kelly and the five day fishing trip marked how he and Tracy met. They ended up having a great time even though they never caught a single fish. At one point in the fishing trip, she watched him wolf down a handful of Oreos, which she remembers leaving a trail of crumbs scattered down the front of his sweater. Tracy had been struggling with anorexia for a few years now and keeping track of what you eat is a big part of the disorder. So after he set the box of cookies down she asked if he knew how many calories are in an Oreo. His response pleasantly surprised her and was reason she was able to fall for him so quickly. Kelly responded to her asking, "What's a calorie?" Five days after this conversation the two would be engaged.

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Tracy and David Rutherford on an Anniversary of Kelly's passing. Image captured August 13th, 2014.

Through the earlier stages of David’s parents’ marriage, Tracy faced a daily struggle with her disorder but Kelly’s acceptance and support helped. When Tracy was 13, a kid at school bullied her about her weight. This memory triggered the onset of her disorder. Doctors at the clinic told her that having kids wouldn't be a possibility due to the malnutrition her body was subjected to. So when she became pregnant years into her marriage, it was absolutely shocking to doctors. The entire pregnancy was extremely hard on Tracy because she was still battling multiple aspects of her disorder. She was so self conscious about her body that she and Kelly moved from BC to Ontario in her second trimester. They remained in Ontario for the next year so she wouldn't have to worry about people back home judging her body. That's also the reason David was born in Mississauga, Ontario. Doctors described his birth as a miracle mainly because he was born in good health, but also because his mother survived the pregnancy. Kelly may not have just saved Tracy’s life but David’s as well.

Even though David lost his father thirteen years ago, there is a bit of Kelly in everything that he does. Many people still talk about the ways Kelly impacted their lives. It is amazing to be able to inspire others, but it's quite special to leave a legacy. David hopes to inspire others through his hockey career in a similar way. It seems that after experiencing loss and adversity, David has developed a unique outlook on how to succeed.

Rutherford hoisting the Kelly Cup after winning the ECHL championship as a member of the Florida Everglades.

David has won numerous championships, played countless games and scored many goals. However, the accomplishments David has made throughout his hockey career are one aspect of what hockey means to him. Hockey has become a safe-haven and an outlet for his passion. The day he lost his father, David went to hockey practice. To him, the rink was a sanctuary and a place he was happiest. The tragedy in David’s life inspires him to become the best version of himself. The events in his life have allowed him to develop an immense passion for the game which has fueled his motivation to be an elite athlete. David hopes that in sharing his story, others experiencing personal challenges can find comfort that they aren't in it alone. In order to combat adversity, he embraced it and channeled his emotions into building a career he is passionate about. In the years to come, David aspires to live passionately and purposefully while making connections with his new fan base. He has made an effort to do so through the launch of his new app - - called DJR91.

As a final note, David wanted to leave readers with the thought that, "you never know how close you are to making something work". Don’t let anything hold you back from pursuing your dreams.

Tatiana Rafter
Professional Hockey Player, New York Riveters (NWHL)
Twitter: @tatianarafter
IG: @tatsabeaut

David Rutherford's Facebook Page:
Twitter/ Instagram: @djrutherford91

Photo Credit to Press Eye. (Edited image taken from on the DJR91 App)

Edited by: Tatiana Rafter and Karmen Clark