Back on the ice – coming out of (and very quickly back into) retirement

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.

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A glass more than half full

It is much easier to look on the bright side of things when you are finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I just recently passed the 6.5 year mark since the concussion that marked me. To put an approximate number to my recovery, I would say I am 70-80% better. This is good. Not the 100% which is the dream, but good enough to function on a daily basis and start taking on more challenges.

At the end of August, I was able to complete my first triathlon. It was a “Try-a-tri” – a “beginner’s” distance of 200 m swim, 10 km bike and 2.5 km run. I really enjoyed having a goal to work towards over the summer. In my younger days I was a strong swimmer, so I welcomed the opportunity to get in the pool more regularly to train for the triathlon. My biggest fear was getting bumped in the head in the open water swim as it can get quite crowded at the start. So my strategy was to stay near the outside at the front. And swim fast. And for the most part, it worked!

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The bike didn’t pose any problems for me. Cycling was one of the first activities I was able to integrate back into after the concussion (well stationary bike to start) so I was well conditioned for a 10km ride. Running tends to be one of the more challenging activities for me – that could move my headache from “OK” to “bad”. Luckily the triathlon day was a good day for me. I don’t recall noticing any headache pain throughout the competition, which I am thrilled about! After the event when the adrenaline rush wore off, there was definitely a crash in energy level so I’m glad I didn’t have anything on my schedule for that afternoon other than a nap.

In my books, completing a Try-A-Tri is nothing spectacular. What is exciting is that it marks a milestone in my recovery process. I once was in a place where waking up showering, getting ready for the day and doing light stretches would leave me exhausted and headed back to bed with a headache that never seemed to leave. And now I am here. Thank God.

While yes, it can be easier to stay positive when things are going well; I think this PCS journey has also shaped my point of view. I realized what I took for granted and learned to appreciate the little things. My situation & symptoms post-concussion are definitely better now than in the past but at the same time the journey it took to get here has definitely helped me see the bright/better things a little brighter.

PS – I gave my page a bit of a makeover. Hope you enjoy the new look!

The Great Circus

Step with care and great tact,  and remember that  life is a great balancing act. -Dr. Seuss

I had the pleasure of watching Cirque du Soleil perform back in December with a friend. I took the 1.5 hour train ride in, did some sight-seeing around the city, enjoyed the show, went for dinner, and then another train ride back at the end of it. Certainly a full day, and was tired out by the end of it, but had a great time.

Flash forward to the beginning of May. I had tickets to see another Cirque du Soleil show in a different city. The itinerary for the day was more or less the same as my previous experience, but wow, did the day ever go differently. I knew I was in trouble when the show started off by one of those competitions where they see what seating area can cheer the loudest. Coming from a background of post-concussion syndrome, these contests spell bad news. Who decided it was a good idea to scream as loud as possible, for fun, in the first place? Is the minuscule amount of entertainment pleasure some may derive from having the volume louder worth the pain it can cause to those sensitive to such things? It was tempting to walk out at that point, but the promise of a good performance and $80+ per ticket, I wanted to stay and see what the rest of the show brought.

There were some incredible acts, but unfortunately these were accompanied by music so loud you couldn’t even hear the crowd cheer. And I’ll remind you this is the same crowd, who at the beginning of the show had mightily demonstrated capabilities of reaching very loud volumes. Some unfortunate placement of spotlights also shone bright light directly in the eye of audience members. I didn’t make it past the intermission.

It was frustrating. I felt defeated. There was no physical or cognitive exertion required from me, I just had to sit there and take in a show, which I was eagerly looking forward to enjoying. Why was it so difficult? Why did I struggle so much this time when a few months earlier my day went without a hitch?

It was a reminder that in some ways I’m still not past this “brain injury”. There are good days and bad days, and I can’t always control them. I still need to walk the tight-rope, and juggle my priorities – balancing to making the most of the abilities I have while respecting the limits that still exist.