Column: Angelique Fong loves the Ducks. Now the feeling is mutual: ‘What an incredible woman’
Angelique Fong of Mission Viejo can skate, but she has limits. “Stopping is not a strong suit for me,” she said with a laugh. Her hockey skills don’t matter. They’re not why she was chosen to be the 21st Duck, a role awarded to someone distinguished by their character, courage or contributions to their community.
Fong is defined by her resilience during two bouts with breast cancer and her selflessness in turning her misfortune into blessings for friends and strangers. While undergoing 33 radiation treatments for a recurrence of her cancer in 2019, she created an initiative she called Radiate Kindness, which consisted of 33 acts of charity or simple gestures of gratitude.
Lera Doederlein has overcome her physical limitations to become a member of the U.S. women’s national development sled hockey team and this season’s 21st Duck.
Sometimes she and her husband, Jeffery, gave money to a cause they believed in. Sometimes, they stocked up at a 99 Cents Only store and created bags of necessities they gave to homeless people. She made blankets for patients at an infusion center. “I really wanted to have something entice me to get out of bed and get me excited for the day rather than, ‘Oh gosh, I have this radiation treatment in the middle of the day,’ ” she said during a video chat.
“I wanted to be excited about going in because then I could jump off the table — well, some days it wasn’t jumping — to then go do something for someone else. I just wanted to put a little kindness out there in the world, and I know that it made me feel so much better because I got to see other people’s faces light up and it did help me forget about cancer for a while, and that’s a really big accomplishment.”
Fong became a fierce Ducks fan in 1999 after an employer gave her tickets to a game and she discovered the skills of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne.
“What else do you need to see?” said Fong, who owns enough Kariya memorabilia to furnish a shrine. In 2014 she insisted on attending the Ducks’ Stadium Series game against the Kings at Dodger Stadium two days after one of her surgeries. Her surgeon said her chances of getting there were 50-50.
“I looked at my husband,” she said, “and he goes, ‘I know. We’re going.’ ” And they did.
Fong was told of her selection as the 21st Duck via a video conference call in January. The team invited her to a practice at Honda Center on Feb. 17, and she gasped when she saw players scattered in the stands holding signs and clapping for her. “To realize that the team was there cheering for me was such a mind-flip for me,” she said. “It was this moment of, ‘Oh, my gosh, they’re cheering me? It’s just me.’ ”
On Sunday the players were on the ice, and she was in the stands. She read the starting lineup, welcomed the team to the ice, and answered a trivia question as a randomly chosen fan would do. Players wore special lavender warmup jerseys that later were auctioned; proceeds were directed to charities designated by past and present 21st Ducks Kai Quinonez, Katie Hawley, Michael Lu, Lera Doederlein and Fong. Fong picked the nonprofit Susan G. Komen, where she had volunteered and which had nominated her to be the 21st Duck.
“What an incredible woman,” Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “Not that all the stories haven’t been great over the years with people we’ve been able to bring in as the 21st Duck. I think her story is one of perseverance and putting other people ahead of herself. So that was a very inspiring message, given the world that we live in at the moment and the way things are.”
Wendy Arciero, the Ducks’ director of community relations, finds many worthy people among the nominations made each year by fans and local organizations, but not all bring Fong’s degree of commitment, character and fandom. “I think we couldn’t have picked a better person than Angelique,” Arciero said. “I think she’s amazing and she’s wonderful, and the Radiate Kindness initiative campaign was really kind of what put us over the top, in that she was going through something that is very personal and potentially very hard to deal with and she flipped that around for herself.”
Fong was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, seven weeks after her wedding and a month before her 40th birthday. She had begun getting mammograms and MRIs at 35, younger than often suggested, because her mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. “I am really a poster child for early diagnosis because I then had more choices when it came to the kind of surgery and reconstruction I had,” said Fong, who had a double mastectomy. “I had a really good prognosis. I was very lucky.”
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A lump she discovered in 2019 signaled cancer’s return, leading to surgeries and the 33 radiation treatments that gave her such purpose. Now 47, she takes oral medication and is considered to be in remission. She registered to run a half-marathon in June and is training on her bike at home.
Fong plans to be at Honda Center on Friday when the Ducks face Vegas. Unlike on Sunday, she will have company as a fan, with about 1,700 people to be admitted.
“I said to someone it felt like we got invited to a party and we were the first ones there and we were there to warm it up and get it going,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what the energy is like this weekend. It’s just going to be so much fun.
“We’re all in need of some of that more personal interaction. We’ve missed it so much. And sports can be such a unifying experience that I got choked up a few times on Sunday because I was thinking, ‘OK, we’re almost back.’ We still need to do social distancing and stay safe and everything, but we’re close. We’re getting there.”
The 21st Duck was first in line to get her team back to normalcy.
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