My best friend growing up was the kid across the street. He bowled and he was a Boy Scout. I helped him with his paper route. We swam, built forts, dug in the dirt, rode our bikes everywhere and we did a lot of things boys like to do, like play GI Joe and wrestle and see who could take the most pain. My nickname was “The Brute”. Once in a great while, we tossed a football back and forth. But we didn’t play sports.
My other pal was a lot like me. We weren’t really tomboys, but we definitely weren’t girly-girls either. We liked to hang out in the park, slap tennis balls off the back wall of the church across the street and get dirty outside. And we were nerdy. We spent hours sitting next to each other reading and doing brain games. One of us received a Make-Your-Own Make-Up Kit as a gift. We loved creating and making the make-up, but it was the making of it we loved…the make-up? Not sure we even put the lipgloss on our lips! We liked the science behind life. But we didn’t play sports.
I was an only child and I tried a few solo sports. Gymnastics for a couple of years. And figure skating too. That is, until my skill went ahead of my age group and I was suddenly with a bunch of girls that were older than me and into doing and talking about very girly things. Being that my best friends and I didn’t fit that category, I really didn’t like being there, and that was the end of my skating … Oh, and I tried ballet. That lasted about two weeks.
Although competitive team sports weren’t happening in my house, my growing up years weren’t completely devoid of competitive sports. Almost all of my cousins played hockey. One uncle was a team manager, the other a coach. A lot of our “family” consisted of members of my cousins’ hockey worlds. Despite the fact that neither of my parents had ever played any sports, my mother was a sports fan: Monday night football, basketball and especially, hockey. From mini-mites to pro, my mom was game to watch any hockey. And I was a rink rat. By the time I was twelve, I had probably been in every rink in the Metro-Detroit area, and some. We even went away on long weekends for hockey tournaments to Chicago, New York, Canada…
So why didn’t I play hockey as a kid? I was kind-of a tomboy, but I was also kind-of what my mom refers to as a wallflower. I really wasn’t shy though, and looking back, I think it would have been more accurate to describe me as an introvert. I wasn’t the kid that would raise my hand in class, but I didn’t die a little inside if I got called on. I had my two besties and I was happy. And I was outgoing, as long as it was in the safety net of my people. It’s really too bad I never asked to play, because I know for sure my mom would have loved to have spent her time in a rink with me.
By the time I hit middle school, high school and my young adult years, my wallflower days were over and my interests went off in all kinds of new directions. Music was a large focus, connecting me to a whole host of new friends and worlds and activities. I started cycling and so began my love of staying active and keeping fit. I got my first job at 14 and at 15, I bought a membership to a gym, riding my bike there since I didn’t yet drive. I liked to be active and adventurous. I back-packed across Europe twice. I bought a motorcycle. I learned how to use power tools. And over time, my cousins were no longer playing hockey. My days as a rink rat were long over by the time I was a young adult and sitting still for a few hours to watch someone else be active was not in my vocabulary, so hockey went off my radar all together.
Hockey was no longer a part of my life for years. That is, until my son got his first hockey stick, in his Easter basket, when he was two. We played hockey on the driveway and hockey in the hallways. And right before his third birthday, we bought him his first pair of skates. I bought my first pair of hockey skates too. We took him down to the lake to try them out. And I almost nose-dived off the front of my skates – there’s no toe pick on hockey skates! Hockey was it for him, (it still is, he’s 13 now) and suddenly, hockey was it for me too! I enrolled him in a learn-to-skate program and went out on the ice with him. I took him to open skates. And then, he started to play hockey! The rink wanted parent volunteers and I jumped at the chance. Seriously, I was out there with three-year-olds, but being in hockey skates and a helmet, I felt like a hockey star!
And then I noticed the banner on the wall of the rink – “Breakfast Club – Get Off the Bench – Adult Hockey Skills and Conditioning”. I asked. And I made sure. And I asked again, “Can anyone come to Breakfast Club, even if you’ve never played hockey like, EVER?” The following week, I was driving to the rink at 5am. It was cold. It was dark. And I couldn’t wait to get there! There were coaches from the rink, all who had at least played college level, and one who had been in the pros. There were dudes of all ages that had been playing hockey their whole lives. There were guys who were fairly new at the game. And there was me. I was the only one wearing kid-size equipment.
Nervous, and excited, I stepped out onto the ice for the first time with all adults, and with all the gear on. I followed the crowd, skating around the rink, warming up, waiting for the coaches to arrive and the 6am session to begin. “Ok, so far, so good. Skate around the rink. Pretend like I know how to hold my stick. I’m upright, this is good. Except that I feel like I can’t see through the cage on my helmet…ok, I’m sure I’ll get used to it, keep skating.” The coaches arrived and instructed – change direction, full throttle between the blue lines and stretches to get us limbered up. “Wait a minute, warrior pose on the ice, in skates and full gear, while moving?!? What?!? Ok, got it. I’m doing it! This is good.” The coaches throw a bag full of pucks out onto the ice and the guys all grab a puck and start skating around the rink, puck handling. I follow suit. Skating while trying to keep a puck on your stick, by the way, is a whole new ball game. I am the car in the slow lane on the autobahn. It seems everyone is skating past me at a hundred miles an hour. And then, I lose the puck off of my stick. I turn around to skate back to it (I know, right?!?) Now? Now I am the car in the slow lane of the autobahn – going the wrong direction! It was like facing a herd of stampeding elephants. I very quickly learned, do not go against traffic while skating around the rink at full speed, ever! No matter if you’ve lost your puck, keep moving forward and pick up another puck along the way! I lived to tell all about it. And I drove home the happiest girl, counting down the days until the next session.
A few weeks of skills sessions under my belt and I was ready to join the Beginner Women’s League. The women were all so supportive. It didn’t matter that I only had an idea of how the game was played. It didn’t matter that if I did manage to catch the puck on my stick, it was a fat chance I was going to be able to keep it there. It didn’t matter that I got called off-sides like a hundred times. They all remembered what it was like to step foot on the ice for their first game. And if I thought the endorphins couldn’t get any better after a morning of Breakfast Club, it was nothing compared to how I felt driving home after my first game!
I’ve been hooked on hockey ever since the first time I put my skate on the ice. And I have been playing ever since. I haven’t been able to play with the league consecutively all these years, or join every skills session. But I do play with the kids in the driveway or at the park every chance I get. I’m up for pond hockey all winter long. And we build a rink in the yard every year. Sometime I am receiving instruction, sometimes I’m a part of a team. And when I’m not, lucky for me, I have two, happy, healthy, athletic boys who love to play with their mom!