Extra Life United ran the gamut for me these past few days, and I'm not sure what the takeaway is.
I wasn't going to go back. I didn't like the idea of Trish not being there with me, so when we realized Samantha's birth would likely preclude her from the trip, Trish was the one who said "you have to go."
We'd made too many friends for one of us not to go.
Getting there was great. Emergency row seats, extra leg room, the world's friendliest customs area in Winnipeg and a perfect recollection of where to go at the Orlando airport had me at Coronado Springs — the resort where Children's Miracle Network's Momentum conference and our United event takes place — in record time and in a great frame of mind. Making things even better, the sun was just setting as the plane touched down. I thank Dominic for that.
I saved some money by sharing a room with Rick, another participant who also had to leave his wife and kids behind. Everything was looking up.
Right away I ran in to friends from last year. Nick from St. Louis. Nolan from Saskatoon. Reed from... the Internet? He kind of lives there. But he's also got a new baby, a few months older than Samantha, back home.
I had no interest in going to the amusement parks. We'd done that last year. So it was all about the gaming competition and the camaraderie accompanying our Extra Life community. I'd been preparing for the games for months, learning them all and practising, often on the official Extra Life Twitch channel. I wanted to win a bit of money — there was US$150,000 up for grabs in all — to bring home to the Alberta Children's Hospital.
Right from the start it was a mixed bag. I had a wonderful on-stage interview with Extra Life creator Jeromy Adams. Most of the audience knew my story and the surprise that we'd had a baby girl, but few knew about the ceramic heart Trish carries with her — the other one given to Dom when he died. A photo of Samantha with the heart on her brought the two stories together.
Then was our chance to interact with some of the champion kids who were there for the Momentum conference. But unlike last year when we were guaranteed to see them all at a pin ceremony, United started a day later this year and so the kids had done their pin ceremony a day earlier, and had been out at the parks all day prior to being invited to play games with us for a few hours.
I'd had special dice made up — a huge shout-out to Chessex who did them for free after hearing our story — with the thumbs-up logo and #Dominicstrong. I wanted to give one to each champion child. Because they were casually filitering in and out, I never got a chance to play any games with the kids because I was so frantically running around trying to find kids I hadn't yet seen and giving them dice. We tried to get a photo of all the Canadian champions and Canadian Extra Lifers, which looks great until you realize how many are missing from the photo itself.
As you can see, I was already spinning into negativity, which is not the point of this week. It's about energizing us for the fundraising year to come and being inspired.
Friday was similar to an Extra Life 24-hour marathon, which is to say exhausting. The first three hours was the champions medal ceremony, in which we cheered each champion child. The Canadian champions went first because many of them traveled home afterwards, before the ceremony was even over. My hospital reps won a major award, but it happened the previous night, while I was on a different stage in a different room. I wish I'd been able to cheer them, too.
Then the gaming tournaments began.
Up until dinner time things went great. I won my first game, lost the second to a guy who wound up winning the entire Star Realms tournament (worth $4,000 to his hospital), then advanced with a table win in Splendor, second place at a table of Citadels, second by a narrow three points in a game of Dominion (only first place advanced). After another on-stage interview and a playing of Dominic's miracle story video, I went back and won a table of Ticket to Ride. That meant semifinals yet to come in Splendor, Ticket to Ride and Citadels — guaranteed money if I finished top two in any of them. On my way for a quick bite to eat — I was feeling a bit faint by then — Jeromy had this look of amazement as he said "it's almost like Dominic is helping you." And, while that was a great story, what went through my head was "No. I've worked my butt off to be good at these games. That's why I'm doing well." I was already very tired.
Another fellow from my Ticket to Ride game, Lucas, came with me for dinner. We'd both been given time before starting our next game so we could go. But when we got back to the game area, we had a rude surprise. My table was ready for me, but his had started without him — he'd been disqualified. We had both checked before we left to prevent that from happening.
I was livid. But I could tell the tournament organizer had no clue how to solve the problem. So I did it for him. I proposed that we include Lucas in our four-player table of Small World, as the game has a five-player option. Everyone concurred. Instant karma. And it was the game I felt best about.
He won. I came second. Only the winner advanced. In fact, he even won the whole tournament of it, and US$4,000 for his hospital.
I then finished third in Splendor, one point short of second place and moving on to the finals and guaranteed money. I then finished third, never with much of a chance, in Ticket to Ride, unable to draw the cards I needed to win. And Citadels? Well, apparently the stated rules of top two advance were changed without anyone telling me. Only the table winners advanced. So I won nothing.
There were also challenge stations with a total of US$10,000 to be won. Games like Rocket League, FIFA, NBA2K17 and Just Dance. I tried Rocket League six times and lost each one of them. Did Just Dance and lost. A woman came up to me and said she'd intentionally lose at Just Dance so I could win something. She still beat me. It was humiliating.
Don't get me wrong: I still had a great time. We went out to Disney Springs (a shopping and nightlife district, essentially) and hung out, got some cute clothes for Samantha. It was great to see the Enmon family again, their daughter Tori having inspired Jeromy to start Extra Life. A few people gifted things for us, like this amazing canvas print done on an iPhone, and clothes for Sam. And I have dozens of hugs to send back home.
There's no overarching theme this year though. Last year it was hope. This year, it's merely a mixed bag of emotion. I blame my own competitive spirit.