MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The memory of an 11-year-old boy is inspiring others in his hometown.

Three years ago, Zac Bartz passed away after a lifelong battle with cancer. As a way to honor Zac, the Chisago Lakes Hockey Association named an award after him for a player who shows courage, strength, and love for his teammates, among other attributes.

“He just loved life,” Zac’s mom Carol Ann said. “He loved hockey and wanted to be in the middle of everything.”

Zac was never able to play hockey, but cancer didn’t stop him from being his big brother Nic’s biggest fan.

“He was in love with the sport even though he could never enjoy it on the ice,” Nic said.

When Zac was just one year old, doctors discovered his first brain tumor. Over the course of this childhood, Zac underwent hundreds of treatments to try and stop tumors from spreading.

“It didn’t matter how many times he was beaten down by the cancer — he kept coming back,” Zac’s dad Nate said. “He did that over and over again for a decade. A lot of people saw that and it changed them.”

By the time Zac was 11, the cancer had spread throughout his body. Even though his spirit never wavered, Zac died the day before the start of the 2013 hockey season.

“We miss him. The community misses him. And it’s good to carry on what he was all about,” Carol Ann said. “Cheering, compassion, not giving up — that’s what we’re seeing in the ZacStrong award,” said Carol Ann.

On Tuesday night, at his brother Nic’s final home hockey game, Zac’s siblings gave his friend Tate Swanson the ZacStrong Award.

“He was inspiration. I’m honored,” Tate said. “Watching him fight the way he did was unreal.”

For a boy who never stepped onto the ice, Zac’s spirit lives on in a hockey team.

“I think for any parent who’s lost a child, your worst fear is they’ll be forgotten. And they haven’t forgotten Zac,” Carol Ann said.

When Zac died in 2013, the Chisago Lakes hockey team dedicated their season to him, and it ended up being their best season in school history and ended with a trip to the state tournament.

Zac’s mom also wrote a book about his life-long battle with cancer. She says she titled it “The Believer” because that’s how Zac wanted to be remembered — he believed he would beat his cancer and he never did give up.

For more information about how you can help find a cure for the cancer Zac, visit the Zachary Neurofibromatosis and Cancer Research initiative online.


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