I read the Player’s Tribune often. Maybe an unhealthy dose kind of often. Impatiently waiting for another athlete that doesn’t know that I exist, to come out and say those three magical and somewhat trite words: “You’re not alone.”
It’s usually after a very lengthy, heartfelt personal story spilling their hearts out and wrapping it up neatly in a sweet conclusive bow, “I’m here now though, aren’t I? I got through it all, thick and thin.” If they can do it, so can you, usually tags along after.
Everyone has gone through their rough journey in life, especially now, and mine isn’t and hasn’t an exception. And anyone that knows me knows I do not shy away from the topic of mental health, particularly my own, if anything I try to shine a light on something that, gratefully has become less and less of a taboo to converse about. In and out of sports, this is a vital topic that affects more than just your mind.
So it was no coincidence for me to have sports come into my life, especially ice hockey, my mental health and life in general immediately took a 360-degree turn.
While growing up, sports were always this background chatter trying to break onto centre stage in the spotlight. My whole family were a herd of football fanatics and with every match night watched, my young eyes would snap wide open to each goal scored and the cheers that ricocheted the walls left me wide awake. Every birthday, I would have a little (but compulsory) football jersey on, and at my parties, the centrepiece would be the glorious football cream and fruit cake.
I even remember my first encounter with ice hockey. Call it love at first sight. Flicking through the channels and stopping on this player with a shining bloody face, wobbling off the ice with a hunker of a bad look to his eye, and as a manic small 5-6 year old I was, I wanted more sports, I wanted more hockey—what a curious thing. Even as sports faded more into the background, and the years went on, I turned my head to hockey like it was a dog whistle, I was the only one attuned to. It was in university, amid the most significant depressive episode I’ve had in my life when I finally was able to hang on to something tangible, it was when I discovered a little thing called the NHL. This random guy on the site Tumblr, offered, for whatever reason to his own, to tell me every nook and cranny there was to know about ice hockey, how it worked and having to deal with my stupid questions with earnest patience. And hey, without the guy, and the hockey community in general? Well, I don’t know where I’d be.
It was then, graduating in 2016 was like graduating into the bigger world of ice hockey, it became official when I went to my first live game in London, watching the Haringey Racers (or now known as the Haringey Huskies) at Alexandra Palace. It was more laid back than I had expected, but was gave me the bite of excitement was the game itself, it was the players slicing the ice that shot me with such an adrenaline rush I felt like I was the one chasing the puck on the ice, with the slap in the face of the cold breeze. This? This was it. There another breakthrough when I went to Guildford for my birthday for ice skating, where I stood right in the middle of the giant flames logo that bore on the ice, okay no, this is it, in 2017, that was when I started watching the EIHL, that was when I knew hockey meant more than just a game.
From the first uproar, the ferocity of the fans, the players sweating hard to get that damn puck at, yes you’re hearing me right, at the back of the goddamn net. I inhaled it, consumed it; it was in my blood now, this is my life whether I like it or not. It was where I discovered new friends that I immediately grew close to like a family. Something I feared I couldn’t have for so long, suddenly then, my depression, subsided, it didn’t disappear no, it found hope, suddenly I felt like I could go on a little longer, that I wanted to.
I don’t think I specifically come to look for an inspiring story from an athlete, especially a hockey player. I think they come to me, and it always so happens in a desperate time of need. I remember the story of Clint Malarchuk, how his throat was sliced during a game and how it was near hard enough ever to set foot on that ground of ice again. This story comes prominently in my mind right now. Another one would have to be Wayne Simmons’ own story. Hockey isn’t cheap, especially if you’re a PoC. Even more specifically if you’re black, as much as we pride that we want it for everyone, there’s still a more challenging trek to it for some more than others, and that goes for life in general, with someone with a similar background, I admired a story like that.
It wasn’t that long ago, that in the same respect I wrote my own sentiment towards the cause, for Chasing The Puck, I had conducted the “Inspiration on the Ice” series interviewing some of the Guildford Flames Players for some inspirational thoughts, quotes and they get through a hard time. I needed more of these stories out there. If it was helping this much, indeed it had to be the case for some others out there.
I think the most apparent commentary you can make about this post ist: There’s some significance to having a “successful” person tell you that they’ve been through hell but still reached the peak of the mountain they’ve climbed. Because hell, it suggests you can too, possibly. But I think it isn’t just that, there’s a certain mentality a hockey player has to be well, a hockey player, and if you’re going for pro, then it’s a life signed contract, until you’ve aged out of it, and that’s a different story for another time. Sure even then you can still play further, but really, this is a whole life dedication sort of thing. I admired that, given that when I was growing up before knowing I wanted to be a writer, I was lost on who I wanted to be in the future. Later on and now and then even now, I get the old case of imposter’s syndrome.
It’s important to see someone else’s struggles mimic your own. In some respect, you can relate to them, and more so when you see them do their job. More so when you know the amount of dedication put in, yeah there’s something poignant about it too, but that’s for another time, another post perhaps, but it seems that overall hard work pays off, it’s seeing a person finding their passion. Despite the hardships they come across, the adherence for their passion, they always put happiness as their highest priority.