After much deliberation, I finally took advantage of an opportunity to step back onto the ice. A spot opened up for a spare in a rec hockey league and I decided it was time. Am I 100% healed? No. But I’m definitely in a very good spot physically and I felt mentally/emotionally it was something I needed to do. I also reasoned nothing in life is devoid of risk, I could slip on some ice in the parking lot and injure myself. So why deny myself what I’ve been dreaming of returning to since day one?
It was simultaneously everything and nothing like I remembered it to be. I cannot shake the feeling of nostalgia whenever I walk into an arena – many of the happiest moments of my youth involved hockey. Even now, I thoroughly enjoy skating around the ice with a stick and puck in hand. However, when I stepped on that ice again, there was what I can describe as a fearful caution. From formally being a player whose main goal was to compete and hold nothing back; to now having my main focus be to avoid hitting my head.
While I am glad I took the chance to suit up and return to the game, (great to have the feeling back of netting a goal, plus a few helpers 😉 ) deep down it is abundantly clear it will never be the same for me. The weight of post-concussion syndrome I have carried for so long has just been too heavy to freely enjoy a game that has a very real risk of collision. There was also an incident that really solidified that position…
Caught up in the moment, I was skating to the net eyeing a teammate who was behind the goal-line, centering the puck out front. Ready to fire it home, my legs were taken out from under me by a player sliding into me from behind. I did not see him coming, could not brace myself and was falling backward. Thank God it was my elbow that took the brunt of the fall and no contact to the head was made. Nevertheless, I was shaken up. The thought that after almost 7 years of progress I could have been right back to square one was so repulsive that I realized it was not a risk I wanted to take. So back to retirement I go after 2 games.
I recently came across an interview of Paul Kariya in light of his recent induction into the hockey hall of fame. (See link on TSN website TSN Original – Paul Kariya or YouTube Link Paul Kariya – Surfacing ) For those not familiar with Kariya, he was a brilliant hockey player whose career was cut short due to concussions. He essentially disappeared from the public eye and is now living contently surfing waves in California. From the video, it was clear he has cut most ties with the game of hockey and the interviewer made a comment that he didn’t even have any hockey memorabilia from his career in his home. When he was questioned on this, his tone changed and he made it very clear if he could have still played he would. I got the sense there was frustration and grief of what had been cut short. However, he had found a way to move on, find joy in other aspects of life, and distance himself from a game that would have kept him living in the past and a world of what-ifs.
While I was nowhere near being a professional hockey player, I can certainly sympathize with his approach to largely disconnect himself from the hockey world. To stay too involved would be hanging on too tightly to what “was”. While I am open to getting involved as a coach in the future, my present needs to be focused on the good in life in the here and now. To do otherwise risks tearing open wounds that time has mostly healed, both physically and emotionally.