Yellowknife mourns the passing of Robin Mercer-Sproule

Last modified: May 16, 2020 at 12:14pm

Robin Mercer-Sproule, a trailblazing athlete in the North remembered as “the sweetest, kindest person you’ll meet,” has passed away at the age of 56.

Robin was told in April 2018 she had stage four metastasized breast cancer, having first been diagnosed with cancer in 2011. She passed away in the early hours of Saturday, May 16.

“I’ve had a great life, an amazing life. I have nothing to be sad about,” she told Cabin Radio in April, a month after being told she had three months to live.

“I’m coming to peace with this. I have to. It’s been a journey. One that I wish I didn’t have to have been on, but I am, and I fought hard.”

A fundraiser in Robin’s name – established by her wife, Traci Mercer-Sproule, and friends – raised more than $25,000 for the Stanton Territorial Hospital Foundation within hours of opening. Its target is $200,000.

The fundraiser hopes to pay for new chemotherapy chairs and equipment at the hospital.

A member of the NWT Sport Hall of Fame, Robin attended 12 Arctic Winter Games as an athlete and others as a volunteer. She appeared at four Canada Winter Games.

Best-known as a hockey goalie, she first competed as a figure skater when she arrived in Yellowknife.

Robin went on to star in those sports – being scouted by hockey’s Team Canada in the early 1990s – and broomball, while also competing in volleyball, basketball, track and field, Arctic sports, and gymnastics.

“When other opportunities came in sports, I was just good at it, I guess – not to brag,” she said with a smile in 2018, adding she had also been invited to try out as a speed skater.

“That wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy it, going one way all the time,” she joked. “Sorry, Michael Gilday.” (Yellowknifer Gilday skated for Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.)

Robin Mercer-Sproule speaks about her illness, and her support, in April 2020.

“Robin is one of the sweetest, kindest people I’ve ever met,” said Yellowknife hockey player Allison Kincaid in 2018 as Robin was inducted to the territory’s sports hall of fame.

“As a young hockey player, she was a role model,” said Kincaid. “She’s been a role model for young girls and athletes in the NWT for decades.”

“She’s good at everything she does,” said her friend Toni Enns at the time. “She’s great on the drums, she’s great in every sport, she’s great with the kids.”

Enns said Robin “knows everybody,” recounting with a laugh that she would threaten not to accompany Robin to events as “it would take five hours to get through.”

“You can’t take five steps and you see somebody that knows her, and then you have to stop and talk, and then another five steps – it doesn’t matter where you are,” she recounted.

“She’s way too adorable. I tell her that every day, how adorable she is.”

Robin’s November 2018 induction video for the NWT Sport Hall of Fame.

Robin’s most recent diagnosis came about after she had already beaten cancer once.

In December 2017, she went to her doctor when she felt unusual pain after jarring her shoulder in a hockey game. Four months later, she learned cancer had returned and spread to her liver, spine, ribs, and sternum.

Though she voiced regret at not taking more steps to check for the return of cancer in the intervening years, Robin set about fighting the disease with an athlete’s perspective.

“Sport helped me through this journey,” she told Sportsnet when the network visited Yellowknife to broadcast Hockey Day in Canada in February this year.

“If you’re winning the game or losing the game, it doesn’t matter. You always try your hardest and you’re not going to give up.”

She later told Cabin Radio she was “enjoying every day in every moment” and thanked the people of Yellowknife and the North for their support, encouragement, and love.

“I’ve had an amazing support system,” she said. “All my different leagues that I played with, obviously my friends and family, and the community itself as a whole has been very supportive.

“Everybody wants to come see me! We have to make up a schedule for people to come visit. The Northwest Territories has been great, because I know everybody around the territories too.

“That keeps me going, keeps the drive going. Nobody wants me to go, and I don’t want to go – so you’ve got to keep positive.”