By Perry Lefko
Eddie Olczyk is used to playing the odds as a horseplayer and handicapper, and now the popular broadcaster and former NHL center affectionately known as Edzo is giving himself a good chance to beat cancer.
Olczyk, who does horse racing and hockey broadcasts for NBC Sports, has done three of 12 rounds of chemotherapy as part of treatment since he was diagnosed with colon cancer earlier this year and subsequently underwent surgery.
“Conferring with my doctors, I would go ahead and put some money on my nose,” the 51-year-old Chicago native told Thoroughbred Daily News about his cancer battle. “I think with the medical support and all the prayers, I am going to beat this. I am going to win.
“But, yeah, I’m scared. Sadly, millions and millions of people deal with this. But this is something I’ll have to deal with the rest of my life. I’m prepared for that. Yeah, I want to get through this chemotherapy as fast as I can.
“As I mentioned to someone the other day, I’m three furlongs into the classic distance. I’m ready for the next nine furlongs. It’s been a battle.”
Olczyk first sensed something was not right with his health at the end of July. He had been scheduled to work the GI Haskell Invitational S. broadcast for NBC, but told his bosses he couldn’t do it because he wasn’t feeling well.
Three days later, he was being operated on for 5 1/2 hours and four days afterward it was explained what was discovered in the surgery. He was diagnosed as having Stage 3 colon cancer, four being the most significant. They removed 14 inches of his colon to take out a tumor and extracted 23 lymph nodes, seven of which were tainted. He said that is a good number comparatively speaking when battling and killing the disease.
“If you take 23 lymph nodes and they are all tainted, you are in a battle,” Olczyk said. “The oncologist said ‘I’m here to cure you, not treat you.’ My scans look clean. There’s nothing there they can tell right now. If they just went on looks I probably would not do any chemo, but they don’t know if something is sitting there festering.”
The chemotherapy treatments are every two weeks for six months.
“This is all foreign to us because we’ve had no one in our family go through it,” he added. “I’m glad it’s me and nobody else in my circle because I can’t imagine anyone else close to me going through this. I’d be a wreck. I’d just be devastated. So it’s me for some reason and, unfortunately, I’ve just got to battle it and listen to what the doctors say. The mental thing has probably been the greatest challenge. I’ve been to places I’ve never been before and it’s hard to get out of there sometimes, but when you’ve got family and support you’ve just got to believe.”
Olczyk has been married for 30 years and he and his wife, Diana, have four children.
“I’m scared, but the medicine is there to help me,” he said. “Yeah it hurts, it’s awful and it’s poison and everything else, but I’d like to think I’m trading in six months for 50 more years. If that’s the case I think I’d make a pretty good general manager.
“I’ve had incredible support obviously from my family, the Blackhawks, the National Hockey League, the hockey community and the horse racing community. I’m kind of overwhelmed. It’s been appreciated and needed.
“I’ve had enough quiet time to last me a lifetime the last 3 1/2 months. Hopefully I’ll come out on the better end of this and be an inspiration to other people that are or will be going through anything, whether it’s cancer or not. It’s been a catch-your-breath moment and put things in perspective a little bit clearer.”
Olczyk has been surprised and touched by the outpouring of emotion from the horse racing community that have contacted him with well wishes. Bob Baffert, who trains a horse that Olczyk owns, and his wife, Jill, have been supportive with kind words and a framed horseshoe that Arrogate wore in training before he traveled to Dubai for the G1 Dubai World Cup. The framed shoe came with an accompanying profound message from the Bafferts pertaining to Arrogate’s win in the race, starting off last and winning going away: “We all know what happened at the start of the race and we all saw what happened at the end of the race, and that’s the motto you will lead as well.”
The Bafferts’ son, Bodie, also wrote a note.
“They didn’t have to do that, but it means a lot,” he said. “It was obviously very cool. It’s up in my office and there’s not a day that I don’t go by there with the horseshoe upright and think about that. I just happened to hit it off with Bob over the course of the last three-plus years since I’ve been covering horse racing for NBC. Bob’s had his health issues as well.
“Whether it’s the co-owners of Always Dreaming, who are big hockey fans, texting me every other day, or bloodstock agent Steve Young, everybody’s reached out and it’s been very humbling and makes you feel good and it’s just something I will never forget.”
Horse racing has become a significant part of Olczyk’s life, and he’s been amazed how much the industry has appreciated his work. He pointed out that earlier this year he crossed paths with Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey in the tunnel at the GI Belmont S. and the conditioner said hello. Olczyk played for the New York Rangers in 1994-95 and had met McGaughey at the time, but didn’t think the conditioner would remember him.
“It was just one of those moments there where you kind of feel like you’ve arrived, like you’ve earned the respect of the industry, the respect of someone like that,” Olczyk said. “Whether it’s small trainers such as Mike Mattine up in Toronto or Mike Miceli in New York or Tammy Domenosky in Chicago, doors have opened and relationships started. Horse racing is more than a passion for me and I do miss it a lot, but I obviously stay in contact with a lot of people.
“Whether it’s my working with the people at Xpressbet, or getting to know people at TVG and the people I work with on a daily basis at NBC, I feel kind of fulfilled in a lot of ways.”
Olczyk has decided not to work NBC’s broadcast of the Breeders’ Cup, Nov. 3-4 at Santa Anita because he doesn’t know what his health will be at the time, combined with the significant travel and workload involved. He said his bosses, Sam Flood and Rob Hyland, would probably be okay even if he did just one race.
“That’s just not me,” he said. “That’s an intense weekend, an intense show. I just think the smartest thing to do is to take a rest and watch. Hopefully they’ll want a few of my picks on the weekend.”
Olczyk was asked by NBC for a pick for the broadcast of the recent GI Juddmonte Spinster S. and picked the winner, Romantic Vision, who paid $14.80. He also hit the $101.20 exacta with Martini Glass.
“I felt pretty good about myself, for a couple of hours anyway,” he said.