Tony Colton may have looked up to the Lightning players he got the chance to befriend the past couple years.
But to them, Colton, 17, was the real inspiration.
Colton's seven-year battle with cancer ended Sunday night when the Sarasota teenager passed away. It hit home for many in the Lightning organization; Colton was a fixture at Amalie Arena in recent seasons, and was an inspiration for Jon Cooper's "Catch for Kids," which raised money for pediatric cancer. Colton courageously created awareness for undifferentiated sarcoma, a rare childhood affliction that starts in the body's soft tissue.
"Tony was a special kid," tweeted Lightning wing Ryan Callahan. "The courage and bravery he showed every day was truly inspiring. You will be greatly missed
Tweeted center Tyler Johnson: "So tough to hear. Tony was a true inspiration and friend. The amount of courage you showed is incredible. Tony, thank you for you being you."
Colton was diagnosed in 2011, undergoing so many surgeries he lost count. Throughout his fight, Colton didn't lose his infectious personality and inner strength. He got the attention of Cooper at the 2015 Sneaker Soiree in Tampa. From then on, Colton appeared to become part of the Lightning family. He went on the ice after practice, or get invited to the dressing room post-game to meet with players.
"Cancer took Tony Colton from us much too soon," Cooper tweeted. "But it will never take the heart and courage he blessed us with. Rest in peace my friernd."
A visitation for Colton will be held Friday from 6-9 p.m at Palms-Roberts Funeral Home (170 Honore Ave, Sarasota). A celebration of life service will occur Saturday at 11 a.m. at Bahia Vista Mennonite Church (4041 Bahia Vista St, Sarasota). In lieu of remembrances, donations may be made to the Ryan Callahan Foundation (www.ryancallahanfoundation.org), c/o Tony Colton, ear-marking the gift for the New Outlook development fund, the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation or John Hopkins All Children's Hospital.
Rest in peace, Tony.