John Kurtz is known as a fighter in the American Hockey League, but what many don’t know is that for years he’s been fighting off the ice trying to help another tough guy he knows.
It all began eight years ago when he was shocked to learn that his father, Peter, had been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
“I was 17 at the time, and it was scary to hear that he had an incurable disease,” Kurtz said. “My family and I didn’t know anything about MS so we started doing a lot of research.”
They learned that MS is a degenerative disease that puts the immune system against the body’s central nervous system. This creates damage to the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord with symptoms including blurred vision, numbness, speech and muscular coordination impairment and severe fatigue. Millions of people are affected each year and live with the unpredictable and challenging symptoms.
“MS simply doesn’t stop. It always progresses, so I knew the best thing I could do to help was to raise funds for research.”
In 2013, Kurtz started an online donation program while playing for the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals in which he donated $25 to the Multiple Sclerosis Society for every game the team won. Kurtz’s teammates, who have supported him both on and off the ice, along with many fans, helped him contribute over $20,000 in two seasons.
This lead to the creation of the “Kurtzy Clan,” a community group in Virginia that bands together to help Kurtz’s fight against MS. This includes annual bowling events, walks and a MS Hockey Night at Norfolk Scope all to raise funds for MS Society in honor of John’s father, “The Original Kurtzy”.
“One of my favorite memories working with the MS Society and the Kurtzy Clan was the MS Hockey Night we created in Norfolk. My parents flew in and everyone wore orange. It was incredible to see everyone support not only my family, but bring awareness to MS,” explained Kurtz.
When moving to Utica, Kurtz continued to support the MS community. This time he made it more personal by partnering with the “Save of the Day” Foundation to help a family in need with a mother battling MS. On December 16, 2015, Kurtz invited the family to a Comets game with a personal meet-and-greet afterwards to help brighten their spirits.
“MS hits close to home for me, so being able to help a family that shares that same fight means a lot,” he said.
Although he continues to fight for the cure, Kurtz finds that the toughest part is leaving his dad each hockey season.
“Even if it’s just a couple of months away from my dad, I can still see how MS has increasingly affected him. My dad is the toughest man I’ve ever known. Even with this disease, he’s at the gym each morning at 6 a.m. Although it may slow him down, it hasn’t changed him.”
And yet the changes Kurtz has made for MS have been immeasurable. It’s the fight that he’ll never stop fighting for while proudly wearing Kurtz on his back.