I get a lot of messages from people around the Connecticut High School Hockey world. I get tips and suggestions, "Watch this kid!" or "You're sleeping on [insert team]." I also get messages that, at times, I don't know what to do with. Some revolve around sketchiness within different programs, some are super sensitive and need to be handled carefully and some just crush you and transcend hockey. The "tip" I got most recently, frankly, brought me to my knees.
In 2010, the small Caribbean nation of Haiti was hit by a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The quake lasted for an agonizing 30 seconds. The quake caused upwards of $8 billion worth of damage, forever changed the lives of millions of Haitians and killed an estimated 250,000 people, injuring hundreds of thousands more.
Out of the rubble rose stories of hope and stories of rebirth. One such story brought a young Haitian family to Wethersfield, Connecticut only four days after the quake. Jude Exantus, his wife Claudia and, at the time, their two children survived the disaster and through the help of local pastors Wendy and Tom Vencuss, relocated to Wethersfield with not much more than the clothes on their back.
Jude would go on to be a Haitian Mission Coordinator and Youth Ministry Coordinator at Wethersfield Methodist Church. He and his wife Claudia would settle in Wethersfield and raise their three children, two boys and a girl.
Then Jude, 42 at the time, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. This was late 2019. Jude and his family, devout in their faith, began the fight. After some initial success around May 2020, in November his conditioned became more complicated and Jude began more chemotherapy. Now in February, Jude's new treatment is costing the family $12,000 out of pocket per month as it's been denied by insurance.
Jude is fighting is for his life. A fight, that he has an army of people fighting right alongside him. His descriptors are consistent when speaking to people who know him. Selfless. Radiant. Loving. Family friend and hockey mom Laura Schneider, described Jude perfectly. "Jude is the nicest, most selfless man you'll ever meet. He is always willing to give a helping hand to anyone no matter what. If you have ever had the pleasure to have met him, you have gained a friend forever."
While this story tugs at every string the heart has, it's not appearing to be much of a hockey story. Enter Jude's son, aptly also named Jude. Jude is a freshman of the Wethersfield High School hockey team. He is not yet a varsity athlete but is a promising player, who like his dad, would do anything for his team. In fact, Jude has become the JV teams default goalie because there was really no one else to do it. Jude had experience as a goalie back in youth hockey and has actually shown some serious promise since being thrust into that position. Wethersfield Head Coach Dennis Tulimieri, now in his 35th year, has seen his fair share of hockey players over the years but describes his freshman as "wise beyond his years."
Jude Sr. is his children's biggest fan. Whether it's watching Jude or his daughter Layla playing hockey or glowing over his son Jayden's drawings, he is always there, cheering them on. Just like he will be today, watching through LiveBarn. It's a big game. Jude will be dressing varsity for the first time today in Wethersfield's game against Conard. Jude has never previously dressed varsity before.
This story struck a cord with me. It broke me down but built me up. I sit here writing a story on a man I've never met and a young hockey player who I only knew existed because I thought his name was really cool. I've learned so much more in this process and I implore you all to donate. This family needs their hockey family more now than ever.
To both Judes, your name means "praise." To the elder Jude, your praise comes in your ability to continue to grace so many people's lives in such an admirable way. To the junior version, your praise comes in the words of your coach, your teammates and everyone around you.
In Jude Exantus' words, "Remember to always be thankful and grateful."
Please donate and support Jude's fight! https://gofund.me/6f1d41f0