RB Network RB Hockey NGD Goalies Walpole Express Powerplay Strength & Conditioning Leprechauns Hockey Shamrock Elite Hockey Tournaments Militia Cup Hockey Tournament Battle of Boston Hockey Tournament Rodman Arena RB Foundation

Junior News
Vicious on-ice hit changed Jake Leamer's life
Posted: February 10, 2014
Share This:

Jake Leamer

Story courtesy of Jason Guarente, Reading Eagle

It started when his Uncle Kevin gave him an action figure from the old Mighty Ducks cartoon series.

Jake Leamer, then 4 years old, never thought much about hockey before that day.

Soon he was wearing plastic roller blades, gliding through the house and down the driveway with a stick in his hands.

He was hooked.

Today, 15 years after receiving that inspirational gift, the Brandywine Heights graduate is a defenseman for the Walpole Express of the Eastern Hockey League. He's working toward becoming a college recruit.

"I can't imagine my life without hockey," he said. "It's just something I can't see."

He never imagined his favorite sport might one day save his life.


Jake Leamer's path to surviving cancer began when he took a vicious hit at West Chester's Ice Line Rink in October 2012.

He was playing for the Central Penn Panthers, killing off a routine penalty, when he was checked from behind.

"It was actually a fairly innocuous hit," said Andy Scott, Leamer's coach at Central Penn at the time. "He just caught Jake in an awkward position near the boards. He had all his feeling when he left the ice. We were pretty sure he was going to be OK."

There was an immediate burning sensation in Leamer's neck, and he was kept on the ice for about 45 minutes until he could be immobilized and taken to a hospital.

There were fears of a head or neck injury, so a CT scan was ordered to rule out every possibility.

The scan revealed something unexpected.

"It came back, and they said, 'Everything is fine with your head, but we saw nodules in your neck that looked oversized,' " Leamer said.

The doctor said this discovery likely was nothing to worry about, but it should be monitored.

Leamer sat out a week with a concussion before returning to the Panthers. The frightening feeling that came with that moment quickly disappeared, and life went back to normal.

He followed up with an endocrinologist in November and again in February, just as he was told. Again, there seemed to be no cause for alarm.

The last step was to have an ultrasound of the thyroid and blood work done.

Leamer put off those tests for a few months. It was the heart of recruiting season for juniors, and he was trying to land a spot with Walpole.

When he had a physical in May to check out shoulder and hip injuries, he finally had the blood work completed. That's when he learned he had thyroid cancer.

"It's something I can't even explain," Leamer said. "It was a shock to the system. It's something I never thought would happen to me. It was scary. You don't know what's going to happen with it."

Leamer had surgery shortly before Memorial Day, seven months after the terrifying hit and two months before he was supposed to leave for Walpole, Mass., to start the next phase of his career.

He was afraid hockey might be taken away from him.

He was afraid he might die.


Every day at 4 a.m. Leamer's alarm clock rudely interrupts him. He wakes up before dawn in order to take Synthroid, a medication designed to regulate his hormones like his thyroid gland should.

After he swallows the pill, he rolls over and goes back to sleep. He has to wait an hour after taking his medicine before he can eat, so he makes sure to take it early. He doesn't want it interfering with his workouts.

Other than some adjustments to the Synthroid to regulate his energy levels, his post-surgery life is normal. He said he plays with the same energy, and perhaps more intensity, than he did before his illness was diagnosed.

Leamer never needed chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Following his surgery, he took an iodine pill designed to kill any residual cancer tissue. That was the end of it.

He considers himself lucky.

If not for that hit and the subsequent scan, Leamer never would have known about the enlarged nodules. He would have walked through life with no idea a potentially fatal disease was growing inside him.

Thyroid cancer is treatable if detected early. The problem is it often doesn't exhibit symptoms until it's too late.

If they didn't find the nodules, Leamer likely would have started experiencing swollen glands or trouble swallowing when he reached his mid-20s. By then the disease may have reached his lymph nodes.

"It was a miracle," he said of the early diagnosis.

The initial reaction of Leamer and his family after that head-first trip into the boards was rage. They thought it was a dirty play, an unnecessary hit that put a player in danger.

Their feelings have changed in the ensuing 15 months.

"We were so angry at that kid," said Keith Leamer, Jake's dad. "It definitely was a cheap shot. It didn't need to be done. Now we want to find this kid and give him a big hug."


Leamer moved to Walpole over the summer. Being a six-hour car ride from home added another layer of anxiety to his cancer fight.

It was a necessary commitment. His goal is to play in college and exposure in the high levels of juniors is the best path.

Playing hockey has been a driving force in his recovery.

"I have to do as much as I can to get it out of my head," Leamer said. "I have to forget about it and move on toward my goal of getting better. That's what helped me through it, the sport and my teammates surrounding me."

Leamer, a 6-0, 175-pound, hard-nosed defenseman with a good shot, has played 26 games for Walpole. He'll likely play two seasons for that team while he hopes to attract a scholarship offer.

"He's a very motivated kid," Scott said. "Once you get to that level, that's what really separates the players who make it to college and the ones who fall out of the game. It takes a lot of sacrifice. He's a kid who has been willing to do that."

When he was at training camp with Walpole, teammates noticed the three-inch horizontal scar on Leamer's neck and asked what happened.

They were stunned to learn the story behind it. Only those closest to Leamer knew about his cancer treatment.

The scar has faded through time and is hardly noticeable now.

Leamer's prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. He'll need to have blood work done every six months for five years. If there are no signs of a recurrence during that time, doctors believe he's in the clear.

Despite all he has been through, Leamer knows that good fortune has smiled on him.

"It was a shock to the system," he said. "It's nothing I ever thought would happen to me. Thank God, it wasn't as severe as it could have been."

Leamer still has those action figures his uncle gave him. They are remnants from his childhood, when he watched the cartoon and the movies repeatedly and learned to love hockey.

Every morning his dad, a longtime football coach, sends a text: "Ducks Fly Together!"

It's a phrase from the movie, and it's designed to help Jake remember to play with youthful enthusiasm.

He probably doesn't need the reminder. He's grateful he gets to play at all.

Contact writer Jason Guarente: 610-371-5079 or jguarente@readingeagle.com.

« See All Junior News

Junior Headlines
EHL: Elite Split Weekend; Pray & Colburn named to All-Star Game
NEWJHL: Express Junior Women Top Hartford Wolfpack
EHL: Premier Forward Raei Commits to Skidmore College
EHL: Premier Goaltender Kowalski Commits to Skidmore College
NEWJHL: Express Go 1-1-1 Over Tournament Weekend
NEWJHL: Forward Megan Doherty Commits to Saint Michael's College
EHL: Elite Team Continues Record Scoring Pace
EHL: Premier Stay Hot With Showcase Weekend Sweep
EHL: Premier Defenseman Ean Mendeszoon Commits to Nazareth College
EHL: Elite Team Impress with 17 Goals in 3 Games
EHL: Premier Continue To Gain Momentum
NEWJHL: Express Host Exhibition Game vs New England Hockey Club
NEWJHL: Express Girls Top Wolfpack
EHL: Premier Return With Something To Prove
NEWJHL: Forward Emily Kramer Commits to Franklin Pierce University
NEWJHL: She's Back! Doherty Returns Behind The Bench
EHL: Elite Team Announce Captains
NEWJHL: Team Captains Named for 2016-17 Season
EHL: Premier Take 2 of 3 on the Weekend
Former Walpole Express Captain Returns After Pro Career »
EHLP: Premier Team Captains
EHLP: Premier Split Opening Weekend
EHLE: Elite Open Season With Win Over Hartford
Borges Goes D1; Larsen Named Director; Lounsbury Joins Panthers
EHLP: Forward Saunders Commits to Missouri State
NEWJHL: Goaltender Cooney Commits to Neumann University
EHLP: Forward Thurnau Commits to Elmira
EHLP: Forward Gubelman Commits to Assumption College
EHLP: Captain Feldman Commits to Lake Forest
EHLP: Goalie Rodericks Commits to Endicott College
NEWJHL: Forward Nagel Commits to Plymouth State University
EHLP: Forward and Premier Captain Varney Commits to Stonehill College
EHLP: Forward Ferraro Commits to St. Anselm
EHLP: Premier Sweep Opening Round of Playoffs
EHLE: Forward Stark Commits to Stonehill
EHLP: Defenseman Colpoys Commits to Westfield State
NEWJHL: Forward Vasile Commits to Castleton
EHLE: Elite Wrap Up Regular Season with Two Wins
Express Alumni Sean Feyler Wins DVCHC D3 National Title
NEWJHL: Forward Brianna Luciani Commits to Becker College
EHLP: Forward Brian Brooks Commits to Suffolk University
EHLP: D-Man Garrett Geane Commits to Wentworth
EHLP: Premier Back on Track with Weekend Wins
EHLP: Forward Brendan Callow Commits to Framingham State
EHLP: Forward Austin Bianchi to Attend SUNY Fredonia
EHLE: Forward Ryan Wagner Commits to Post University
EHLE: Elite Team Hosting Concussion Awareness Game Feb 20th
EHLE: Coach Polino and 6 Express Players Named to Elite All-Star Game
EHLP: Premier Take 3 of 4 Points on the Weekend
EHLE: Elite Split the Weekend Against Warriors
Sign Up Now for 2016 Tryouts!
NEWJHL: Express Captain Jacobs Commits to Plymouth State
EHLP: Weak Offense Leaves Premier 1-2 Over Showcase Weekend
Submit your Essay to help Nominate Rodman Arena for Hockeyville and Win a RB Hockey Summer Camp
Express Support Boston's Own Deanna Laing
EHLE: Elite Return From Break
NEWJHL: Win as a Team, Lose as a Team
EHLP: D-Man Topham Commits to Bowdoin
NEWJHL: White, Gilbride Commit to Franklin Pierce
EHLP: Premier Fall to Rangers, Wizards
Alumni Update - December 2015
NEWJHL: League strengthens, advances young talent »
EHLP: Mediocre Weekend Keeps Premier Train at the Station
NEWJHL: Express Women Best Wolfpack, Fall to Wizards and Cyclones
EHLP: Lipa Commits to Oswego State
EHLE: Elite Remain In Second Place
EHLP: Bumpy Ride But Premier Remain on Track
EHLP: Premier Train Keeps on Rolling
EHLE: Mixed Bag For Express
NEWJHL: Express Fall To Wizards
EHLP: Premier Take 3 of 4 Points on Weekend
EHLE: Elite Split Weekend
EHLP: Premier Sweep Weekend
EHLE: Elite Having Strong Start
EHLP: Premier Off to a Steady Start
NEWJHL: Express Split at NEWJHL Showcase
EHL: Former Captain Brightbill Named Atlantic Division Defensive Player of the Week »
EHL: Walpole Express Take Fast Track in New League (USA Hockey) »
EHL/NEWJHL: Former AHL Pro Kesell Named Goalie Coach, Jr Elite Assistant
EHL: Premier Team Names 2015-2016 Captains
EHL: Express Name Jr. Sabres Scout Polino as Elite Team Head Coach
NEWJHL: Program Gains New Head Coach in Danielle Doherty
EHL: Corvi Commits to Nazareth
USA Jr Hockey Mag: Walpole Organization Expands Brand's Commitment to Development »
NEWJHL: Payne to D1 Pioneers
NEWJHL: Kieft Headed to St. Anselm College
NEWJHL: McSweeney Commits to Becker College
NEWJHL: van Nes Joins Netherlands National Team
EHL: Express' Lounsbury Named EHL Co-Coach of the Year
MJHL: Express Have Cinderella Season Despite Playoff Loss
NEWJHL: Express Women Close Out Season, Look Toward 2016
EHL: Express Close Out Strong Season
MJHL: Express Extend Historic Run Sweeping into Foster Cup Championship
EHL: D-Man Charko Commits to Saint Mary's University
EHL: Express Veteran Balboa Commits to Tufts University
EHL: D-Man Nelson Commits to Division 1 Harvard University
MJHL: Team Finishes Regular Season with 12-Game Winning Streak
EHL: Express Sweep Lumberjacks in Round 1 of Playoffs
EHL: Express Finishes Second Half with Torrid Run
MJHL: Sweep Last Full Weekend of Season
EHL: D-Man Dotolo Commits to University of New England
EHL: Goaltender Nazzaro Commits to University of New England
EHL: Biebel Commits to Saint Michael's
MJHL: Sweep at President's Day Showcase
NEWJHL: Strong Effort But No Wins for Express Women This Weekend
EHL: Express Stay Hot
NEWJHL: Express Top Wizards Thanks to Effort, Payne
EHL: Carignan Heads to St. Anselm in Fall
EHL: Express Rebounds, Sweeps Weekend, Wins Division Title
EHL: Mature Decision Preserves Hockey Career
EHL: Cefalu Finds His Game, Goes D1 at UNH
EHL: Ferrera Commits to Plymouth State
MJHL: Express Enjoying Winning Streak
EHL: Win Streak Ends at Eight
EHL: Leamer to Join St. Anselm Hawks This Fall
MJHL: Four Express Players Participate in MJHL All Star Game
EHL: Runaway Train Gains Momentum
MJHL: Express Split Weekend Against Cyclones
EHL: Cefalu Named Offensive Player of the Week »
NEWJHL: Total Team Effort Nets Express Women a W Against Hartford
EHL: Defenseman Walderson Commits to Augsburg College
NEWJHL: Strong, Multiple-Game Weekend for Express Women
EHL: Express Ready for Strong Second Half
NEWJHL: Express Women Announce First College Commitment
Alum Aufiero Named NE-10 Player of the Week for 2nd Time »
EHL: Back in the Driver's Seat After 2 Big Wins
MJHL: Express Lead Mullen Division
NEWJHL: Express Women Top the League's Leader Board
MJHL: Express Share Division Lead Thanks to Two Weekend Victories
NEWJHL: Express Top Wolfpack Two Weekends in a Row
NEWJHL: Express Women Unbeaten in Showcase
NEWJHL: Despite Strong Effort, Express Fall to Cyclones
EHL: A Down Weekend for Express
MJHL: Express Share Lead in Mullen Division
EHL: Alumni Shapiro Named ECAC Men's East Rookie of the Week »
EHL: Express Take Two on the Road
EHL: Dylan Gamble Named Offensive Player of the Week »
NEWJHL: Wizards Hand Express Loss on Spirit Night
MJHL: Tied for Best Record in League
NEWJHL: Express Women Come Up Big Against Wolfpack
EHL: Express Take 3 Out of 4 Points at Veterans Day Showcase
MJHL: Though Down Against The Wolves, Express Rebound Against Bandits
EHL: 1-1 on the Road
NEWJHL: Women Showcase Speed and Teamwork
MJHL: Team Sits in Second Place
EHL: Express Back on Track
EHL: Train Derailed
MJHL: Express Win One, Fall In Shootout
Entire Express Organization Off To Impressive Start
EHL: Train Keeps Rolling
MJHL: Express Go 2-1 at Columbus Day Showcase
NEWJHL: Express Women Hold Top Spot in League
EHL: Express Goalie McCarthy Goes DI
MJHL: Express Top Rangers Thanks To Special Teams
EHL: Michie Named Express Captain
EHL: Express Stay On Top
EHL: Conditioning Pays Off with Three Wins in 4 Nights
EHL/MJHL: Men's Junior Captains Named
NEWJHL: Express Girls Open Inaugural Season
Zach Simpson to D-I American International College
Ryan McCarthy Commits to Daniel Webster
Walpole Express Partner with Evolution to Boost Player Performance
Colacchio to Framingham
Hainey Headed to Stonehill
Stonehill Captain & NEH Alum Named Director of Hockey Operations »
NEWJHL Announces Showcase Schedule »
Captain Cota Heading Home
Lundberg To WNEC
Shapiro To Backstop USM
Cefalu Earns EHL Statistical Champion Title
Gaetz NESCAC Bound
D-Man Jamie Young Commits to Fredonia
Vicious on-ice hit changed Jake Leamer's life
Battaglino Named Head Coach of Women's Junior Team
Alumni Commesso Earns Northeast-10 Top Rookie Honors »
Beckwith Bound for USM
Iorio Arena to be Known as Rodman Arena »
Bartell Heading Home, Commits To Utica
Express To Host Girls Junior Team in Newly Formed NEWJHL
Former Captain Named ECAC West Rookie of the Week »
Jr A's Battle Toward Success
MJHL Team Putting In The Work
MJHL Captains Named
Express Name EHL Captains
Official WLX Online Store Now Open
EHL Partners with Educate Athletes
Junior A Joins EHL
Turner Commits to Suffolk
Goff, Antonoff to UNE
Alum Aims for Pro Championship
Captain Heads to St. Anselm's
Clay Adams Named Goalie Coach
Goalie Commesso to Assumption
Youth Headlines
05 Elite Team Captures Challenge Cup
Development Programs Participate In Patriot Place Winter Classic
06 Premier Team Making Playoff Push
02 EJ Express on Top of the Rankings
02 & 04 Teams Win Thanksgiving Championships
Mite Express Team Takes In Boston College Game
U18 Express Are 2016 Midget Champions
Former Walpole Express Captain Returns After Pro Career »
Ed Kesell Named To Mass Hockey Goaltending Development Advisory Group
Borges Goes D1; Larsen Named Director; Lounsbury Joins Panthers
Express Teams Capture Tournament Championships This Past Weekend
Junior Elite Team Hosting Concussion Awareness Game Feb 20th
Development Programs Participate In Patriot Place Winter Classic
Express Support Boston's Own Deanna Laing
Express Premier 02 Win Turkey Tournament
Former AHL Pro Kesell Named Goalie Coach
2015 Development Program Options
USA Jr Hockey Mag: Walpole Organization Expands Brand's Commitment to Development »
2002 Express Tournament Team Wins March Classic
2002 Express Tournament Team Goes to MLK Tournament Finals
Entire Express Organization Off To Impressive Start
Walpole Express Partner with Evolution to Boost Player Performance
Stonehill Captain & NEH Alum Named Director of Hockey Operations »
Express Join Mass Premier Hockey League
Iorio Arena to be Known as Rodman Arena »
2004 Come Back Fall's Just Short in NA Fall Championship
2004's Win AA Summer Showdown
2003's Win AA Summer Showdown
2001's Win AA Summer Showdown
Clayton Adams Named Goalie Coach
Express Win 2013 Kennedy Peewee Championship

RB Hockey
Northeast Goalie Development
Mite Developmental League
Rodman Arena
Evolution Sports Performance
Eastern Hockey League
New England Women's Junior Hockey League
RB Foundation