The second ended with hope.
Today, I head back to reconnect with what'a become a second family to us.
You've seen what we've done through Extra Life in the past. The 24 (or more often, 25) hour gaming marathon takes place annually, with all the money we raise going back to the Alberta Children's Hospital where Dominic spent so much time.
For some Extra Lifers, one day a year is not enough. Many fundraise all year long, and for some that's not enough. For those who want to take their love of the charity to the next level, or those who simply want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Extra Life United was created.
When it first took place in late 2014, I got an invite because I was among the top fundraisers. But I wasn't about to leave Dom and Trish at the hospital, certainly not when we were on the last gasps of treatment before he was declared terminal.
Those who went said it was a life-changing experience. With a huge prize pot and a group of incredible gamers, the real stars of the show were the champion kids. You see, Extra Life United takes place during Children's Miracle Network's annual Momentum conference. One child from each state and 13 from Canada are flown in, treated as the rock stars they are, representing their home hospitals and inspiring everyone with their courage, joie de vivre and amazing skills as spokespeople.
I thought, one day we'll get to Orlando. Maybe Dom will be picked as a champion child.
We got back to Orlando for his wish trip instead. He decided he'd never leave, crashing the morning after we went to Disney World and dying a couple days later.
We thought we'd never go back to Orlando.
Six months later, we returned for Extra Life United 2016. Children's Miracle Network produced a video about Dominic and our story, which hopes to inspire others to give back to their communities too.
At last year's United, we met so many incredible people. We met champion kids like Derek from Edmonton, and Peyton from Calgary, and their families. We met the Enmon family, whose daughter Tori inspired Jeromy Adams to create Extra Life. And we met more than 100 of the most amazing gamers.
From minute one we all had a connection. It was an instant family. So of course I had to come back.
This year will be much different. It's a reunion, plus there will be brand new champion kids to meet and new gamers who are at ELU for the first time. I'll be thinking of Derek especially - he died this past year. He was so elated to meet some of the celebrity gamers who had flown in last year, not realizing he was the star in their midst, not the other way around.
Trish and Samantha couldn't come because it's too soon after the surgery and the risk of blood clots makes flying a risk for Trish. But they will be FaceTimed in whenever I get a chance, and I know I'll be receiving many hugs on their behalf.
I'll also be hoping to improve on how I did at the competitive gaming last year. Trish and I each made a tournament final, winning a combined US$1,000 or so for the Alberta Children's Hospital. This year they've added challenge stations where you can win a quick $50 at a time, and I'm signed up to play board games Citadels, Ticket to Ride, Splendor, Small World, Dominion and Star Realms. You can watch the action live at www.twitch.tv/extralife4kids all day Friday and Saturday.
And I'd be remiss not to mention I've got my fundraising page already set up at extra-life.org/participant/sean - or donate at extra-life.org/participant/trish too.
It's going to be a jam-packed few days. I can't wait.