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BSU grad inspires young athletes with his story

Bemidji State University graduate and former BSU junior varsity hockey player Pat Forte enjoys a summer day last year in Eveleth with his son, Nico. Forte, who was diagnosed with a rare cancer eight years ago, recently gave an inspirational keynote speech at the Eveleth-Gilbert hockey banquet about how sports has helped him overcome hardship. Greg Schulzetenberg | Mesabi Daily News

Scott Gerdes

Mesabi Daily News

EVELETH -- "Live for today, because tomorrow is guaranteed to nobody."

Eveleth native and Bemidji State graduate Pat Forte tells himself that every day. He knows the truth of those words. He knows because of adversity. He's staring it right in the face and tangling with it head on ... full force with locked horns. And he's conquering it.

Forte, who was a junior varsity hockey player with the Beavers in the 1980s, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer on Feb. 28, 2006. He was told there were fewer than 200 cases of thymic carcinoid cancer worldwide. Doctors also found fluid around his enlarged heart. He was told he had six months to live.

"I made 10 calls that morning and didn't remember any of them." Forte shared. "It's a shock. You reflect on a lot of things. People told me I need to live one day at a time. So do they. I don't sweat the small stuff anymore."

Over the past eight years since the diagnosis, Forte has had numerous surgeries — including the removal of his right lung — and chemotherapy and radiation treatments to try to shrink tumors that have invaded many areas of his body.

"I overachieved," he said of outlasting the six-month mark and with a laugh added, "with one lung I can still bike downhill as good as ever. Going uphill is the toughest part."

Sports has always been a big part of Forte's life. In 2011-13, he served as an assistant coach at Saint John's University in Collegeville, which he had to put on hiatus due to his illness. From 1984-86, he played hockey for American International College in Springfield, Mass. He was the head hockey coach at Brainerd High School from 1991-97 and led the Warriors to two conference titles. He coached the Minnesota Select 17's from 1999-2004 at the National Festival and managed the Upper Midwest Elite League's North team for two years, earning a playoff championship berth. On top of that, Forte coached St. Cloud Apollo in 2000 and directed the Eagles to a conference title. He is currently on leave from teaching sixth grade at Kennedy Community School in St. Joseph, Minn. Forte currently resides about five miles north of St. Cloud in Sartell.

The 48-year-old former Golden Bears hockey forward shared his cancer experience at the Eveleth-Gilbert hockey banquet in March. He enjoys speaking and feels he has a message to convey to "anyone who will listen." Forte has shared his story all around Minnesota over the past four years, including at UM-Crookston and Lakeville North High School. He admits it was more nerve-wracking to speak in his hometown, but once he got past the initial nervousness "it was all good."

A main thing he has learned about survival and wanted to impart to the students, in particular, is that high school athletics teach you how to deal with life's inevitable curve balls.

"Much of my life has been fighting through adversity," Forte said. "You've got to face it head on. The message I tried to convey to the hockey team is there's no better way to deal with adversity than through high school athletics. Everything I use to face adversity I learned through sports.

"For example, in baseball you might strikeout with the bases loaded. That's OK, just live to fight another day. In golf you might miss a 3-foot putt that costs your team the meet. The coach might get on you, but you need to fight through it. It makes you stronger and a better person."

In his keynote address, Forte also stressed to the student-athletes that they should never stop going after their dreams because "life really is short."

"Have no regrets. Shoot for the stars," Forte said. "And if you don't make it, that's OK, there's something else out there. You have to believe things are going to work out."

E-G head hockey coach Jeff Torrel heard that message, too.

"No excuses, no regrets. You get knocked down, you get back up," Torrel said when asked what he took from Forte's speech. "I heard mostly from parents afterwards that the players enjoyed Pat's speech. If you can keep high school students in their seats for 15 minutes, you've done a good job."

Forte recalled that he didn't always get a lot of ice time as a Golden Bear. He would often go to his dad to talk about what he needed to do to get into the lineup.

"Then it was my actions from then on," he said. "Many times people want to blame the coach or the doctor, but it's up to the player and the patient to get better."

Forte also cautioned parents to take a step back when it comes to their level of involvement in their children's sports.

"Parents want to smooth corners out and smooth the battles, but are stifling development of the child even though the intention is good," he expressed.

Having a team around you is something else Forte connects to his handling of hardship.

"One thing you learn through sports is teamwork," he said with conviction. "I have an incredible support group that keeps me going. It's like having a team with you that stretches from the Iron Range to the Twin Cities."

A scan from six weeks ago showed that none of his cancer has spread and its intensity has subsided. Forte said he still has tumors "all over" his body and is taking four different medications. He added that he's felt some strength return over the past six weeks. Forte said he's feeling the best he's felt the past two years with a noticeable increase in energy.

"Pat is a good friend and mentor. And he's still fighting. That's Pat," Torrel said.