The greatest pass in the Canadian Football League this season might come from a four-year-old Stettler boy.
Roan Heck and his friends from the Calgary Stampeders are passing on a safety message in a TV commercial scheduled to air this fall.
“Whatever game you play, play it safe,” Heck reiterated from his backyard last Friday, a week after he filmed the commercial at McMahon Stadium with Keon Raymond and Brandon Smith of the Stampeders.
Heck was just one-and-a-half years old when he lost his left leg in a lawnmower accident in June 2010. Three years later, he’s been chosen as the War Amps national safety ambassador for 2013.
A visit with Roan at his family’s farm south of Stettler indicates how natural a fit he is to spread the safety message on TSN football broadcasts, beginning on Thanksgiving weekend. At home, he can be heard even before he’s seen.
“Hello,” he greets a visitor while sporting a big smile and his personalized Stampeder jersey — Roan, No. 13. He runs around the house on his prosthetic leg and shows the personality that’s already made the energetic kid a winning ambassador.
His parents, Neil and Jolene, and siblings Cole and Gabby witnessed Roan do likewise a week earlier during a day of filming in Calgary.
“He did a great job,” Neil said. “We’re really proud of him.
“He liked the experience. They did some real neat stuff that you’ll see in the commercial. It kind of shows what Roan is about and where he comes from and all that stuff.”
His parents were among those people impressed with how well Roan handled almost three hours of filming with the Stampeders in the afternoon heat, and more voiceovers taped that evening at the hotel.
“It showed what he’s capable of,” Jolene said. “After we were done filming, we kind of look at Roan differently now. How he could step up and be so mature, because he’s only four years old. And how they’d have him repeat his lines over and over again. It was so hot, and he’s wiping the sweat off his forehead., but he just kept on going.”
Seemingly at home on the football field, Roan’s animated ways set the pace for the Stampeders participating in the public-service announcement.
“He was involved with it all,” Neil said. “The players were good, too. If he wasn’t quite in the mood, they’d get him going in the mood. And lots of time, he’d get them in the mood, too. It was kind of a trade-off back and forth.
“At 1 o’clock, they came out of the dressing room and right away, they were, ‘How ya doin’ little man, give me five.’ They were all over him.
“Keon Raymond has four kids of his own, so he knew exactly what he was getting into. There were no surprises for him. It’s just like another day at the office at home.
“Brandon Smith was fantastic, too. There was a reason they were chosen for the commercials. They’re good characters and they do a lot for the community around (Calgary), as it is.”
The CFL players left an indelible impression on Roan.
“My favourite football team is the Stampeders,” he declared.
“I roped them and pulled them across the field. I ran with them and high-fived them, and I tackled them.”
Watching the Stampeders live in their 38-27 win over the Montreal Alouettes that same weekend, “there were (fireworks) shooting up into the air,” he said in demonstrative fashion.
“I was cheering for them, waving my flag. (When they scored a touchdown), Quick Six was running as fast as he can.”
Jolene said the Hecks “already had a soft spot” for the Stampeders, because the organization had been supportive when Roan was hospitalized in 2010.
The War Amps and its child-amputee program, CHAMPS, became familiar with the Hecks after Roan’s accident and believed that he would represent the group and its mandate well.
“They had called us early in the spring and asked us if we would be interested in participating in the CFL commercial and doing some footage of our family,” Jolene said. “We thought it would be an honour and a good way to give back to the War Amps for everything they’ve done for us.
“Roan is only four years old and they usually want a six- or seven-year-old, so he’s a little bit young, but they had seen him at CHAMPS seminars and saw how much energy he has. They just thought he was a neat little guy that would represent the War Amps well.
“So they followed through and did the commercial and all their filming. And after it was all done, they had named him the 2013 national safety ambassador.”
While they’ve embraced all of the attention that has come with Roan’s celebrity role, the Hecks say his smooth adaptability into everyday life makes him “one of the kids” back home in Stettler.
“He’s just like another little guy around here,” Neil said. “Everybody knows him. The kids at school, at the arena, everywhere, they know who Roan is. He’s just another guy running around out there. He’s a lot of fun.
“And the community support has just been phenomenal.”
Roan not only follows his siblings to the rink, he’s going to give hockey a try this fall. He’s bound for kindergarten in September, the same month he celebrates his fifth birthday.
The Hecks aren’t dwelling on the past. They’re excited about the future.
“We’re making the best of the situation,” Jolene said. “And we owe that (attitude) largely to our community and to the War Amps and specifically the CHAMP program.
“Every year, Roan goes to a CHAMP seminar hosted throughout Western Canada, and he has an opportunity to go see kids with the same disabilities he has. It also gives the parents an opportunity to speak to other parents about what it’s like raising a child (who is an amputee).”
This year’s seminar is in mid-September at Calgary, where the Hecks hope to see a preview of the commercial that features Roan.
“They don’t make reference to Stettler in the (football) commercial part, but in filming the War Amps material, they do talk about Stettler,” Jolene said. “They asked us about our community that we live in, and how that’s been beneficial to Roan through his accident and recovery, and the support in the community.
“We had the opportunity to talk about how much support Roan has and how grateful we are, and we couldn’t imagine living in another community to raise Roan and to be able to give him all the opportunities he’s had so far and in the future, because everywhere we go (in the area), everybody knows Roan and are very supportive of him.”
Most of all, he has the daily backing of a supportive family, including siblings Cole, 11, and Gabby, 9.
Joining them on the backyard trampoline, Roan belts out his message: “Whatever game you play, play it safe.”
He’ll share his story when he gathers with fellow amputees at the CHAMPS Western Canadian seminar this fall.
“Roan lost his leg above the knee — he’s an above-knee amputee,” Jolene said. “So he’s just passing on the message to other kids and people out there, ‘Whatever game you play, play it safe,’ is their actual slogan.
“It’s just nice to pass that message along to everyone, and hopefully it hits home with people, and they think twice about (the potential hazards of) lawn tractors and operating them. And just whatever you’re doing on a daily basis — or whatever game you play, to play it safely — to maybe avoid future accidents like his.”
Roan’s words of wisdom will hit homes across Canada through the Grey Cup.
“Although Roan and the players were having a lot of fun filming the PSA, they were also spreading a hard-hitting message that will reach thousands of people,” Rob Larman, the War Amps PlaySafe/DriveSafe director, said in a news release.
“The Stampeders and the Canadian Football League were tremendously supportive in helping to make this event possible.”
The Hecks encourage people to support the War Amps through its keytag and address-label service.