When working out on the ice two weeks ago, Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding didn’t feel right. He started to feel dizzy and was seeing large black dots. When receiving treatment for his neck, he was given news that would change his life: he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable autoimmune disease in which the body randomly attacks and eats away the protective lining of his nerves and causes them to scar. This results in problems with balance, fatigue and blurred vision.
As of right now, Harding has no plans of quitting hockey or retiring. “I had a couple days where I felt bad for myself, but no more,” Harding told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “There’s things in life that happen. Sometimes you can’t explain it. You deal with it.”
Harding, 28, signed a contract extension in June that will keep him in St. Paul for three more seasons. He has resumed training on the ice while the NHL is in a work stoppage. When he was getting an MRI exam, it revealed lesions on his brain, which led to the diagnosis. He has since received aggressive treatment to prevent new lesions from forming and to control the existing lesions. He also used this time to come forward with his diagnosis to prevent it from becoming a distraction once the season began.
Harding has the support of his teammates and the organization. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Josh and his family,” general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a statement distributed by the organization. “Josh’s competitive fire has led him to a successful career in the NHL and we know he will approach this new battle in the same manner.”
Last season was a career year for Harding, when he appeared in 34 games and carried a 13-12-4 record with a 2.62 goals-against average and .917 save percentage. The resilience and determination he had to return to the ice last season after he tore anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee that caused him to miss the entire 2010-11 season will be needed again.
Harding is taking the news with optimism and will battle it head on. He also doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him or treat him any different. “You can let it get you down for a bit, but you’ve got to move past it. I know what my overall goal is to be, and that’s a No. 1 goalie of the Minnesota Wild and to win a Stanley Cup here. It would make me happy to overcome this. Not just overcome this, but to really succeed with it,” he said.
Harding and his fiance are also expecting their first child.