Lambton teacher finds inspiration for his first book in the classroom

Steve McGrail with Cash McKinnon at a Petrolia cross country event several years ago.

Heather Wright/The Independent

Steve McGrail didn’t have to look very far to find the inspiration for his first book.

The Wyoming man who teaches at Lambton Centennial School outside of Petrolia got some help from a friend and his students and inspiration from Cash McKinnon for his first book A Heart Full of Cash.

The book, according to McGrail, tells the true life events of McKinnon, a Grade 6 student with cerebral palsy who runs cross country, helps McGrail with the school teams and is an accomplished sledge hockey player.

“It was always on my to do list or bucket list to write a book,” says McGrail. He had a “few ideas kicking around and I’m like ‘I’m seeing the best idea right in front of me every day.’ Every time we go to a cross country meet and the effect Cash has on other people, it was pretty amazing.

“Seeing the energy and life that he has – nothing is easy for him and he just keeps working hard and everything he wants to do he does.”

Cash had no idea his teacher was writing about him. McGrail just showed up one day and read the book he wrote to the class. Cash says he expected it to be about McGrail’s son, Jace, who is a hockey player. But then he realized it was about him. “I just didn’t know what to say; I was in shock.”

The self published book with the story by Steve McGrail, the cover by Erin Miller Hawryluk and illustrations by Lambton Centennial students.

After introducing the story, McGrail worked with other teachers and students at Centennial to make the illustrations for the book. And he contacted a local author and illustrator, Erin Miller Hawryluk, to create the covers.

The book started to come to life in the classrooms, but then, the pandemic interrupted and the students went online, leaving the book on the drawing table.

This fall, McGrail and his students picked up the work again and just this week, Amazon notified him the self-published book was complete.

McGrail says some students at Centennial have already ordered and received their copy, but he’s waiting for his to arrive still.

So is Cash. “All my friends are coming to me like, ‘When can I get it? When can I get it?’ I’m like, ‘dude, I don’t know,’” he says as McGrail quips “You need a publicist!”
“I have to start practicing my autograph,” Cash replies.

While they haven’t had the hard copy in their hands, both are proud of the work that went into it and the story it tells.

McGrail says Cash has an attitude that everyone can learn from.

“He just faces those obstacles with an ‘I can attitude’ and I think a lot of kids and adults alike can learn a lot from him.”

So what inspires Cash’s ‘I can attitude’?

“My idol is Terry Fox, to look up to him and see what he could do, I came to the conclusion that I could do it too, because he ran in every condition; that just stuck to me ever since I saw that video and still stuck to me now.”