Nicholas Cavanna's younger brother, Liam Fitzgerald was born with Down syndrome—a genetic disorder which affects approximately 6,000 newborn children in the United States each year.
At about three years old he was diagnosed with Leukemia. He would battle this disease for four years through intense chemotherapy. Liam would smile through even his hardest times, serving as an inspiration to friends and family. Ultimately his long-fought battle was successful and he “kicked cancer’s butt.” Liam has been a diehard Boston sports fan his entire life. He lives, breathes and dreams Boston sports. The Boston Bruins, a cameraman and some simple fist bumps would turn Liam into an icon. Liam would become ‘The Fist Bump Kid.’
“I wake up every morning, and my brother’s picture is on the sink with him holding the sign that says ‘I kicked cancer’s butt.' A lot of people have seen that picture. But for me, waking up and saying, ‘That is my brother,’ pushes me forward to be the best person that I can be.”
Nicholas Cavanna is Liam’s older half-brother. Nicholas credits himself for Liam’s love of sports—a love which has driven him to pursue a career in sports production. However, it is Liam whom Nicholas credits for his success. After finishing classes this past winter, Nicholas has accepted his dream position as a broadcast associate with the Boston Bruins for the New England Sports Network (NESN). Liam’s overwhelming positivity through his darkest moments serves as Nicholas’ constant inspiration.
A LOVE FOR THE GAME—Nicholas grew up outside of Boston in the small town of Northborough, Massachusetts. He has self-proclaimed himself as one of Boston sports’ biggest fan. “My dad took me to way too many sporting events when I was little,” said Nicholas, laughing.
Nicholas’ father asked him in middle school what he wanted to do in life. While this question would be impossible to answer for most children, Nicholas knew he wanted to pursue a career in sports. “I love sports,” he said. “If you do something you love, it’s not really work.” Nicholas began working in sports broadcasting and filming as soon as he stepped foot into Algonquin Regional High School. Nicholas would soon appear on local television for sports announcing, courtesy of the Northborough Cable Access Television which was located in his school.
Nicholas and his friends ran with a small crew—covering hundreds of high school games. His friend Joey Braverman was named the Voice of Algonquin Football, but Joey credits Nicholas for all of his accomplishments. “My friend Joey thanks me all the time for what I did for him,” said Nicholas. “He’s now in college doing sports broadcasting. He’s said I really shaped him and how he’s gone forward in life. He gives me a lot of credit, but he was always good.”
Nicholas would enter Marist College focused on sports broadcasting, but refocused his interest on sports production. He joined the Red Fox Network his freshman year, editing clips for Marist’s live stream as well as the video board. “He came to us as a freshman...his dedication and effort was excellent,” said Andrew Alongi, Assistant Athletic Director for External Affairs at Marist College. “[He] made great contributions to the Marist Athletics Department during his undergraduate career...I know his experiences working with the athletics department as a student will help him succeed in his professional career.”
“I’m the guy who does the JTR bus races. If you want to know who wins, hit me up before the game,” Nicholas laughed.Nicholas’ house was constantly visited by news stations following his brother’s rise in fame. Through Liam, Nicholas attained an internship with Channel 7 News in Boston as a freshman.
Nicholas Cavanna's story is interconnected with his younger half-brother, Liam Fitzgerald. Liam was born with Down syndrome and diagnosed with Leukemia when he was two years old. The Boston Bruins, a cameraman and some simple fist bumps would turn Liam into an icon—'The Fist Bump Kid.' Nicholas has a deep-rooted passion for sports—specifically for Boston sports. He credits himself for Liam's passion for sports, but credits Liam for all the opportunities he has had—whether it be his internship with Channel 7 News in Boston or his recently acquired position as a Boston Bruins Broadcast Associate with the New England Sports Network. Liam's positive attitude and perseverence through hardship has served as a constant source of motivation for Nicholas, who has remained extremely humble through his success.
LIAM—Liam was born in 2006. He was diagnosed with Down syndrome, but the difficulties this genetic disorder can present, he has always been contagiously joyous. This remained true, even while he was fighting Leukemia. Nicholas and his family knew Liam was in pain, but his joy never waivered. “He was really little, he didn’t really know what was going on,” said Nicholas. “I spent a lot of time in hospitals, seeing big needles and IVs in him.” It was tremendously difficult for Liam’s family to see him go through that experience, but Liam’s reassuring smile, tremendous strength and overwhelming positivity shepherded the family through four years.
“He’s a really tough kid, it’s very rare to see him cry,” said Nicholas. “We play a lot of knee hockey in my house, and I’ve seen him go head-first into a bed frame and not cry.” Liam and his family also went on a trip to Disney, courtesy of The Make-A-Wish Foundation, an experience which Nicholas described as “unbelievable.”
“He won’t watch Spongebob, he’ll watch sports highlights,” said Nicholas. In 2015, Liam’s dreams came true. Through sheer chance, the adorable interaction between Liam and the Boston Bruins was captured. Liam became known as ‘The Fist Bump Kid.’
‘THE FIST BUMP KID’—“After the E:60 story everyone knew who he was, at least in massachusetts or anyone who watches hockey,” said Nicholas. “It made me very popular—I added like 300 followers on Instagram in a night...a lot of them were these little girls that loved my brother—it was very weird,” he laughed.
Liam was named the Man of the Year by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in 2015 after him and his family raised over $150,000 for the organization. Nicholas and his family also attended the first-ever Globies in 2015, where Liam was awarded as the Most Inspirational Fan, described as Nicholas as “a huge honor.”
Liam stood alongside individuals such as Pete Frates, a former captain of Boston College’s baseball team who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2012 at the age of 27. Frates is credited with creating the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” which has raised over $115 million for the ALS Foundation.
“I’m just Liam’s brother, I’m not really that special. He just brings me along,” said Nicholas. “Getting to meet people like Pete Frates and seeing what they have been through—it’s very inspiring.” Nicholas has met some of Boston’s largest sports icons through Liam, essentially fulfilling some of his dreams as an avid Boston fan.
“The first time they took us down to the locker rooms with my brother, I compared that to being a 12 year old girl at a one direction concert,” Nicholas laughed. “Every picture I took was blurry because I was shaking.”
“When [Tom Brady] came out of the locker room I was shaking...You could see his eyes, laser focused, locked in,” Nicholas continued. “My brother lunges out from the wall, sticks his hand out, and Tom Brady double clutches. He reaches out, and high fives my brother” The security guard turned to Nicholas, saying through all the years, he’s never seen Tom Brady turn to anyone coming out of the locker room. Liam has that effect.
“It’s very humbling because I looked up to these guys,” said Nicholas. “Now I go down and I know them on a first name basis. To see my brother make a celebrity’s day makes me love sports even more. Just getting to know the athletes—that’s the outside part of sports that really drives my love for it.”
GIVING BACK—Nicholas has always been committed to serving others, and witnessing his brother’s experiences has only strengthened that commitment. “I think it comes from how my parents raised me. I went to church and CCD a lot, where I learned about giving back,” he said. Nicholas has continued his commitment to service as a member of at Marist College’s campus ministry. “It makes you feel good knowing that you’re making someone’s day and making them feel good,” he said.Nicholas has played in the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Conference (MDSC) Hockey League since he was 16 years old. The MDSC retains a partnership with the Boston Bruins and each year, the MDSC All-Stars face Boston Bruins Alumni.
Nicholas raised over $2,000 for the charity event and has raised over $10,000 since joining the conference. He was named the MDSC All-Star for his determination to change the lives of those born with Down syndrome. “I really appreciated the award, but at the same time I don’t feel like I go above and beyond everyone else,” said Nicholas. “I just try to do my part.”
Nicholas interned with the Boston Bruins through their community relations department in the summer before his junior year, again crediting Liam. Although this internship was not related to production, Nicholas explains that it was “a dream come true just to be able to work with the Bruins,” and it helped to further fuel his commitment to serving others. Nicholas traveled in the Boston Bruins truck, holding summer reading visits for children throughout the Northeast alongside a cheerleader and Blades the Bruin, the Boston Bruins’ official mascot.
“[The truck] was decked out in bruins stuff. It’s so cheesy but I would totally drive it around,” said Nicholas, laughing. “It’s one of those things where you aren’t really doing that much, but you can see that the kids really appreciate it,” he continued. “It was sometimes a long drive, but it’s totally worth it when you see the kids’ faces and how excited they get. It makes their day.”
PERSPECTIVE—Witnessing Liam conquer leukemia with unwavering positivity has changed Nicholas’ life. “If I work as hard as I can and put my best foot forward, everything will work out, and I’ll find my way down the path of life.” Nicholas believes that no problem in life is too great. There is always light, even in the darkest of times. Liam’s positivity has been that constant light. “I kind of wish he would never grow up,” said Nicholas. “But I look back at pictures of him really little with no hair. I’m glad he grew up from that.”
“I wake up every morning, and my brother’s picture is on the sink with him holding the sign that says ‘I kicked cancer’s butt’ – a lot of people have seen that picture,” he continued. “But for me, waking up and seeing ‘that’s my brother’ – If he got through that, I can get up every morning to live my life and do my part in society. It pushes me forward to be the best person that I can be.”
“It changes your perspective on what you see as a big issue and a small issue, which I try to teach to other people every day,” said Nicholas. “If you have a happy life and a healthy life, that’s really all that matters.”