Devon Botbyl is the kind of role model that Niagara-on-the-Lake deserves.
At his Virgil home on Monday, Devon was outside with his father Scott shooting pucks on the hockey net.
"Of course I'm looking forward to the Candlelight Stroll," Devon exclaimed when the topic was brought up.
Devon is no slouch with a stick and puck. Of the 30 or so shots he took on me, all but one made it into the net.
The 18-year-old has faced a myriad of hardships in life. He has a rare chromosome condition that causes global delays and autistic tendencies, has been through orthopedic surgery and recently a cancer diagnosis.
His mother Dani says he has taught her how to face life’s challenges with infectious positivity.
“No matter what punches come your way, in Devon’s eyes life is good,” Dani said in an interview.
“We’ve gotten through this all, the cancer, day-to-day life, by taking cues from him, by taking all the positive cues from him.”
Now cancer-free, Devon will be the recipient of the money raised through this year's Candlelight Stroll on Friday night.
Despite all the challenges, Devon is able to see the good in everything and everyone, his mom said.
“If we go to downtown Toronto — my kids like it there and we’ve spent a lot of time there in 18 years— it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a suit on (Bay) Street or if you’re a homeless guy sitting on a grate with a cup beside you,” she said.
“Devon will exchange a smile with you. He’ll say hello and engage you in a conversation. That’s the type of person he is.”
Her son's resilience in the face of hardship has been a source of strength for others, Dani said.
“We’ve had so many people say that Devon is a bright light and, you know, it doesn’t matter who you are, everyone needs a bright light,” she said.
“Devon’s touched the lives of a lot of people. That’s his way of giving back.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s a cancer diagnosis or surgery, he just teaches you to see the good in everything.”
The optimistic youth has had a big impact on his family.
“It’s just, you have to react and adjust when things come your way. But, for Devon, he just has this perspective and he just rolls with the punches. You have to react and adjust but go on living your really good life,” she said she has learned from her son.
Dani said Devon’s positivity and love for people is a constant. Devon can teach us that, no matter how challenging life gets, loving your neighbour should never be difficult.
“When he came home from eight hours at the hospital and 12 hours of chemo transfusions he just wanted to get on his bike and go talk to his friends and neighbours.”
There will be much to celebrate at the Candlelight Stroll this year. After months of intensive chemotherapy treatments, Devon is cancer-free, Dani said.
Of all the things that bring him joy, what Devon loves most is his hometown of Niagara-on-the-Lake and the village of Virgil.
“He loves his neighbourhood, he loves the town, he really loves the people, the tourists. He loves to sit down on Queen Street when the who’s who bring their fancy cars out and they’re revving up and down the street,” she said.
“He watches this all happen and he waves to people and he talks to people.”
Dani said her son doesn’t like watching television, he doesn’t enjoy video games and he doesn’t have a large group of friends he plays with.
That’s why being the focus of the Candlelight Stroll in the town he holds dear will probably be “the happiest he’s ever been,” she said.
The Candlelight Stroll will be a lasting memory that Devon will hold onto his whole life, she said.
“For him to have this honour and the kindness that everyone is showing him, on behalf of us all, thank you to everyone for giving Devon this incredible moment,” she said.
Dani said there couldn’t be a better Candlelight Stroll to be a part of than the first one since the pandemic.
“To share this with the community, kind of on the other side of the pandemic, just makes it that much more special,” she said.
The financial aid from the stroll also comes at the perfect time, as the family was worried they may have to leave their home of 25 years due to accessibility issues.
The proceeds from the stroll will go to helping the Botbyls install an elevator in their home.
“We’re working with Edward Designs Inc. in town and we’re looking at putting in an elevator and then making a big accessible washroom upstairs by Devon’s bedroom.”
More than anything else, Devon said he is excited to ride in a horse-drawn carriage on Friday night.
“Before COVID, we used to just go and sit at the Prince (of Wales) by the horses and he would talk up the drivers and ask what the horses' names are. He probably knows all the horses by name,” she said.
Devon said two of his favourite horses in town are Wonder and Cinderella, who was recently in The Lake Report as part of our Remembrance Day edition.
The gesture from the Chamber of Commerce and the community is greatly appreciated.
“On behalf of Dev, myself, Scott and Elise, his dad and sister, we just want everyone to know how grateful we are for their support,” Dani said.
“We just want to see Devon happy.”
Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report