I've never been much for organized
sports. Perhaps it's because I've never been able to follow
directions. That girl in the back of the aerobics class, the one
with the two left feet who gets reprimanded by the instructor,
that's me. Which is why, whenever possible, I try to pursue
solitary endeavors trail running, biking, skiing things that don't
include the possibility of public humiliation or at least require
enough protective gear that should humiliation occur, it is
impossible to be identified.
So, when I announced
that I had signed up to play hockey, most of my cohorts were in
disbelief. Some inquired if I had been drunk at the time. I quickly
defended my position, noting that whether or not I was inebriated
(I was) had nothing to do with my decision.
See, I grew up in Minnesota, which in addition to Prince,
Spam and Target, happens to be the home of 10,000 lakes.
Of course, this claim is only accurate about three months
out of the year. The rest of the time, it is home to 10,000
cold, flat, frozen surfaces, good for only one activity
skating. (Note: ice fishing and
snowmobiling are not "activities.") So, even though I
never actually held a hockey stick, let alone hit a puck
with one, I felt it would come naturally. After all, I
grew up immersed in the hockey culture. My cousin's best
friend's older brother's friend was the son of Herb Brooks,
who coached the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team (half of which
was Minnesotan) to the gold medal. I knew the real-life
Hanson brothers, from the movie "Slap Shot." Playing hockey
was practically my birthright. Nevermind that I had donned
a pair of skates only twice in the last 20 years and hadn't
the foggiest idea of how to stop there is ice in my blood.
But before I could test
this theory, I had to procure gear. This was to be a lesson in
itself my teacher an unwitting and befuddled young man more
accustomed to outfitting kids than their mothers.
"I want the cheapest of
the cheap," I declared as I entered his store.
He obediently set about
outfitting me in everything from skates to shoulder pads politely
turning his head when I slipped the breezers over my jeans to see
if they fit. When it seemed I had amassed padding like flab on a
WWF heavyweight wrestler, we headed toward the checkout. But there
was one last stop: a rack of white, strappy apparati that looked
more befitting of a male locker room than a middle-aged
"I need one of those?" I
asked in horror.
"They're, um, pelvic
protectors, ma'am," he stammered.
Up until now, I had
understood the need for all the protective padding hips, knees,
elbows, chin but down there? Apparently, hockey was an
Rather than subject the
boy to more trauma, I acquiesced.
"OK, guess I better have
There was an
"Um, what size do you
think you are?" he asked. "They come in small and
Now it was my turn to be
embarrassed. As a woman, I had never been asked to evaluate such a
measurement. I glanced down and wagered my best guess.
"Why don't you try a
large," he responded. "They're adjustable."
Not in a position to
argue, I took my large pelvic protector, threw in a pair of fuzzy,
tiger-striped skate guards and was on my way eager to test my gear
and the clerk eager to put the episode behind him.
But before I could do
anything, I had to get dressed. An hour and a half before my first
unofficial game, I began to sort through the pile of plastic and
foam. Forty-five minutes later, I was still puzzling over how the
garter belt worked and why the "socks" looked more like leg
warmers. With ice time drawing near, I drove to the rink half
dressed, hoping some of the more experienced players could help me
out. It was here that I learned the first rules of hockey: breezers
go on after knee pads and socks, but before skates; helmet after
shoulder pads; jersey before helmet; and never, ever walk on the
cement in your newly sharpened skates.
Fully decked out, I
hobbled out to the rink like a sci fi Weeble and flung myself over
the wall to the ice (there are doors, I would later learn.) Before
long, I was feeling comfortable in my suit of armor. But there was
one problem: the thought of a real hockey stop terrified me. I
would have to improvise, relying on the boards to check my speed. I
fashioned a pseudo stop by pointing my feet outward like a duck and
spinning in a circle a pretty little trick I learned in fourth
grade ice skating lessons.
My hands, however, were
a lost cause. Drowning in a pair of loner gloves, I had trouble
grasping the stick, let alone maneuvering it. I decided it would be
safest for me and others to hang back on defense. With little
fanfare, the game started, and I was doing a good job of avoiding
the puck and drawing as little attention to myself as possible. And
that's when it happened. Someone shot me the puck. Actually, it was
more of a mercy pass, gently tapped in my general direction. All I
had to do was swoop it away like a hot potato, but it was easier
said than done. I waited for what seemed an eternity for the puck
to reach me, then I closed in and took aim. A hush fell over the
crowd, and with everything I had I whiffed.
With no puck to absorb
my forward momentum, my upper body kept going, soon followed by my
lower half. I'm not sure how I came to rest on the ice, but it must
have been face up because I saw stars.
Once again splayed
across the ground I was that girl. The one who misses a softball
lob even a one-eyed pygmy goat-herder in bare feet could have
returned, with his teeth.
Lying there, I prayed
for a freak Zamboni accident to take me out, but no such luck. I
was forced to stand up, brush off and play on.
Which is what I did for
the next hour and a half of mostly self-imposed pain, the likes of
which I have not seen since I experimented with snowboarding 10
years ago. In this time, it became apparent that my childhood
training in the fine art of spins and bunny hops, not to mention my
implicit brush with hockey greatness, had no bearing whatsoever on
my real life playing abilities.
That was the first of
many revelations. I also came to understand why hockey players have
gaping smiles and crooked noses. I learned the importance of
lifting my face mask before a farmer's blow. And I was made aware
of my dormant quads and hip flexors, as well as a few unknown
But perhaps the most important thing I
learned was that no matter how hard I crashed, it never hurt all
that bad physically or otherwise. For one, I was practically
encased in bubble wrap. And secondly, there wasn't a person there
who hadn't wiped up the floor with her face at least once or twice.
See, at one time or another, we all have to be that girl, or guy,
and this just happened to be my turn.
In the meantime, I'm perfecting that