Magazine

Honorable Mention

Liam Fitzgerald: The Fist-Bump Kid with the unshakable spirit

He beat cancer, became a social media sensation, raised more than $155,000 for charity — and third grade isn’t over yet.

Matthew Healey for The Boston Globe

For more honorable mentions and the winning Bostonians of the Year, click on the drop-down list at the bottom of this article.

With its cheerful crayon and careful lettering, the “See How I Grew” poster hanging in the Fitzgerald kitchen in Northborough could be any child’s school project — until you get close enough to read the “big events” that Liam Fitzgerald chose to represent his life so far.

“Age 3: I was diagnosed with leukemia.”

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“Age 7: I beat cancer.”

“Age 8: My fist bump video went viral.”

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That last one was a year ago, and no poster in the world could fit all the milestones that have happened since the cancer survivor with Down syndrome was filmed fist-bumping his hockey heroes at TD Garden. More than 5 million YouTube hits. Runaway fan of the year honors in a USA Today reader poll. His own Upper Deck hockey card. An expected Guinness World Record for most simultaneous fist-bumps (2,604), from a Lowell Spinners game with Liam as the guest of honor. And more than $155,000 raised for cancer research.

Long drawn to hockey’s fast-paced action, Liam at 6 told a Make-A-Wish representative that he wanted to meet Zdeno Chara. Watching games on TV, he sings — and pumps his fist — with Rene Rancourt, cheers for clean checks, and roots hard for shootouts.

So he was all business last season when a Bruins staffer plucked him from the crowd and invited him to sit on the bench for warm-ups. Not quite 3 feet tall, Liam extended a cool fist, just like his older brother taught him. As the skaters began bopping his knuckles, Liam lit up with a range of emotions: hope, seriousness, resilience — vigorously shaking off one enthusiastic bump from center Gregory Campbell, then raising his fist again — and pure delight.

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Liam’s parents didn’t realize the moment was being recorded, but when it was posted online, his infectious joy took the Internet by storm.

Where some viral sensations have tried to cash in (see: “That’s a tuna, bro!”), Liam’s parents, Christine and Bill, who were already active with leukemia and Down syndrome causes, saw an opportunity to further advocate for research and inclusion. Selling rubber bracelets and autographed cards at public appearances and encouraging a social media campaign to #BumpOutCancer, Liam earned “Man of the Year” honors last spring as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s top Massachusetts fund-raiser.

And that’s not all for 2015: He grew 5 inches, got to ride the big-kid bus, and lost his first baby teeth. With third grade and the NHL season nearly half over, he’s rooting hard for the one thing he didn’t get this past year: a playoff berth for the B’s.

Read more from the Bostonians of the Year issue:

Select a name from the drop-down list below.

Eric Moskowitz is a Boston Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.
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