Love makes you do the strangest of things. If you’ve been around awhile and have done some living, you know this to be true. It’s made us do things we wouldn’t even think of otherwise. Maybe you sat through a godawful movie and pretended to like it because it made the person you were with happy. Maybe you sat through a ballet or opera thinking how much cooler it would be if you were home listening to old Neil Young records because of the joy it brought your someone special. Sometimes we make that sacrifice for what we love.
In addition to many other things, I love hockey. It pretty much consumes the majority of my daily thoughts. Am I obsessed? Absolutely. Do I love it enough to risk embarrassment and possible injury? Apparently, I do.
Despite being overweight for most of my adult life, I’ve always loved to play sports. Growing up and through high school, I’ve played them all: Football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, golf. I even wrestled for three years in high school. I’ve played everything, except hockey. Which, as a native Floridian who has never lived north of Gainesville, is understandable. Growing up down here, hockey wasn’t on my radar as a kid. The Florida Panthers didn’t play their first game until I was 20 years old. And I didn’t grow up waiting for the weather to change so that I could play pond hockey. Living in South Florida, we were lucky if we had a few good days to bust out our jackets. My first real introduction to the game was NHL Hockey for Sega Genesis in 1991 (I used the Blackhawks as my team. I was unbeatable, ask my brother and the many controllers he broke in anger).
So after all these years later of watching the game, I still had never laced up a pair of skates, and played the game myself. In December 2009, I made a New Year’s Resolution that I, age 36 at the time, was finally going to learn. First step, learn to skate. I had only been on skates once prior in my life(2004) so that seemed like quite the uphill challenge, especially since that turn on the ice ended with me injuring a knee. I located a rink close to my house, and discovered they had an learn-to-skate class for adults.
I quickly registered and paid for the class before I could talk myself out of it. Before I knew where the time had gone, the day of my first class was upon me. So on a Saturday in early January 2010, a morning cold enough for Canada and the northeastern US (it was 30F that morning), I took my first class. I showed up to a class of roughly eight women, most wearing their own skates and clearly with a full knowledge of how to skate. As I stepped on to the ice for the first time, I clung to the wall the way a young child does to its mother’s leg on the first day of school. It wasn’t my finest moment. I was enough of a neophyte that I received personal instruction from someone who was supposed to be an assistant to the main instructor. Instead, he became my personal teacher, while the main instructor worked with the ladies of the class.
After eight weeks of half hour lessons, and surprisingly few wipeouts, I started to get the hang of it. I was drifting further and further away from the wall (aka, mommy) and more than a few parents (there were children’s classes going on at the other end of the ice at the same time) came up to me to say that they enjoyed seeing my progress. I guess a big goof like me sliding over the ice tends to draw some people’s attention. Another eight week session and I deemed myself through with classes and focused on getting ready to play. I started buying gear every paycheck, one piece at a time, ordering from various websites.
After a period of a couple of months of buying equipment, I was ready to go. Obviously, I was going to need some instruction before I even entertained the thought of joining a league. So, I found exactly what I needed in an adult learn-to-play hockey class at another rink. Perfect! What better way to get introduced to playing the game than with a group of newbies roughly around the same age as myself? On the first night of class, I arrived about an hour early because I would’ve gone nuts with nerves waiting around my house. As more and more people filed into the dressing room, I was getting the same feeling I had at my first skating class. The feeling was “I’m the only one who has NEVER done this before.” Every one who came in had used, weathered gear and were quite familiar with each other.
After a few minutes of putting on my gear in silence, I asked ‘Am I really the only one who is doing this for the first time tonight?’ And my fear, was confirmed. It was just me. Luckily, everyone was welcoming and encouraging and offered their advice. I tried to play it cool as a I stepped on the ice to skate to the bench to leave my water bottle for later. My stumble and near fall at center ice let me know that cool was the one thing I would not be tonight. After a series of solo drills to start, which I couldn’t have been slower at completing if I crawled on my face, it was time to actually do some drills with someone else. The first drill was two man rushes up the ice to culminate with a shot on goal. I started with the puck up the ice, and amazingly fired back a backhanded pass with some pace right on the tape of my partner. Nailed it!
My pride in my pass would not last long. The pass back to me was a hair behind me, as I was skating a little bit faster thanks to the adrenaline of the pass I had just made. Instead of remembering that I had boards behind me and that the puck would bounce back to me, I reached back with my stick to corral it. What happened next could only be compared to the Battle of Endor scene from Return Of The Jedi where one of the Imperial Walkers was upended by walking on a series of logs deployed by the Ewoks. And I fell over in much the same fashion, instead I fell head first into the board, with my neck bending back in the funniest of America’s Funniest Home Videos ways.
After I quickly realized that I wasn’t paralyzed and my legs still functioned, I popped up like it didn’t hurt a bit and skated to the back of the line. It hurt. It hurt bad. So much so that when it was scrimmage time at the end of practice, I skated immediately to the bench, took off my bucket and just watched. The ibuprofen tablets I popped the second I got home from practice did little to stop the pain the next morning. I felt like I was on the receiving end of a camel clutch (it’s a pro wrestling move). But I made it back the next week but didn’t do too much better. At the end of the eight week session, there was another neck injury on the very last class, this time coming from my me standing up too straight and falling straight back and smacking my head off the ice. After this injury, I figured someone was trying to tell me something and maybe I should sit out for a bit.
After taking the holidays off, I figured I would give hockey another go come January. Some health problems (which led me to find out that I have diabetes) derailed my efforts to get back going. But after recently losing some weight, and taking up skating again, I found that a lighter me is much easier to get around the ice. So as I find my summer becoming increasingly boring while I wait for the start of the upcoming season, I decided that it’s time to give it another shot. I registered for another ‘learn-to-play’ class which begins in a couple of weeks. Why would I risk embarrassment and possibly my health at my age (I’m 37 now) to learn to play a game as difficult and potentially dangerous as hockey? Because I love this game. Love makes you do the strangest of things.
Thanks for reading!