Seb Gardner's return to the TRU men's soccer team has the WolfPack's coaches and players excited.
No one - and we mean, no one - is more excited than Gardner himself.
Gardner, a 24-year-old midfielder from Vernon, will lead the WolfPack into its PacWest regular season this weekend. The WolfPack is scheduled to play host to the Douglas College Royals on Saturday and the Kwantlen Eagles on Sunday at Hillside Stadium.
Gardner has been with the WolfPack since the 2008 season, but hasn't played at TRU since 2009. Part of his time off was due to a shoulder injury, which required surgery.
But this will be his biggest comeback, and it has nothing to do with an injury.
Gardner is set to make his return after battling Hodgkin's Lymphoma, with which he was diagnosed in December. He underwent six months of chemotherapy, and the cancer was determined to be in remission in July.
"I didn't expect to be back this soon," Gardner said Thursday at a WolfPack news conference. "My doctors all told me that it would take a while to get back. I'm still recovering - my body's not there yet, and I tire a bit easily. But I want to be here.
"My body is still in repair mode, but I'm getting there. I should be ready to go."
This won't be Gardner's first time back on the soccer pitch, however. Even while undergoing treatment, he was playing with the Pacific Coast Soccer League's Kamloops Heat.
"I played while I was going through chemo . . . when I could," he said. "I picked up my fitness at the end of July, and kept carrying on with it."
Gardner's life-changing journey began around Christmas, when he was found to have two tumours in the lymph nodes in his neck. Further examination revealed the problem was far greater.
"They found a large mass, bigger than my fist, right above my heart," he said. "It was a shock."
The diagnosis was Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer in the white blood cells. It is the same type of cancer that Mario Lemieux, then a superstar with the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins, was diagnosed with in 1993.
Gardner started chemotherapy on Jan. 16, and went through weekly treatments until June. 20.
"I didn't know what to expect going into it, but you have about five rough days after (the treatment) . . . then you're back in there the next week," he said. "It takes its toll on you, but I had great people around me and I was able to stay focused.
"I accepted it at an early stage, kept my head up and went through with it."
That's the thing about Gardner, who has three semesters left before completing a degree in social work - he has seemingly unwavering confidence.
He's the type of guy the WolfPack will want to help anchor its midfield, especially with Braeden Burrows facing the possibility of a lost season due to a knee injury suffered while playing with the Heat.
"Braeden may be gone for the season," said Sean Wallace, who coaches the WolfPack with John Antulov. "But Seb Gardner . . . he's back and he's a good veteran to have back. He'll help us."
He might be one of the keys to TRU's success this season, but Gardner, like the old cliché would indicate, is simply happy to be here.
He admits that he has gained something of a new perspective after everything he has gone through.
"I try to live in the moment more," he said. "It put everything in perspective for me, and I want to make an impact on the moment and cherish everything.
"I'm looking forward to this weekend and I've enjoyed every training session since I've been back. It's made everything a bit more fun.
"It's been a ride," he continued. "I had six months of chemotherapy, but I've had great people around me to guide me through it and I'm very lucky to be here now, very fortunate."
CORNER KICKS: Both of this weekend's men's games are scheduled to start at 2 p.m. . . . The WolfPack women will play Douglas on Saturday and Kwantlen on Sunday, with both games starting at noon.