“I used to be afraid of dying. Now I’m afraid of not living.” -Neal Shusterman
At the risk of repeating myself, I have a story to tell.
When I was little, I loved the ice rink. Despite the inconvenience of the complex rental skates (I could barely tie my own shoes) I always felt a special connection to the crisp ice, a special love for the ethereal world it conjured. I loved the cold, and the sound of skates cutting through ice, metal and water fighting to the death and working together in the weirdest union imaginable. That was why I started to learn how to figure skate. I stopped a year or so later, around when I moved to Maryland, for one reason.
My college essay goes into this more, but I’ve always been a little afraid of speed. I’m afraid of that moment of release when you lose control; The moment when you give into momentum and let the speed carry you. This fear was why I quit ice skating, and karate, and tennis, and every other sport I’d ever tried. I only ever wanted things to come easily, and I never saw a point in doing things I couldn’t do.
I had a group of friends who used to go ice skating every Friday. I wasn’t that comfortable hanging out with them yet- they always did their best to include me but I was always on a different wavelength, three inside jokes behind. The Friday skates were different though, because I could skate. I wasn’t by any means phenomenal, but I was probably the best in the group besides Evan for a good long time. It was silly, but that leveled the playing field in some way to me.
I’d never played hockey in Virginia, and I’d never wanted to play hockey in Virginia for two reasons: Firstly, it was super popular there, and I was always pretty counterculture. Secondly, I was afraid of physical contact. Spoiler alert: hockey is many things, and physical is definitely one of them.
So it was no surprise that when the River Hill Ice Hawks found themselves low on skaters, and desperately needed bodies, nobody exactly came running to me to participate.
I remember feeling a little insulted when Evan asked somebody else in a group chat to join the team, because they could ice skate okay. I mean, it wasn’t like I even wanted to play hockey, and he definitely knew that, but skipping over the actual exchange bugged me for no good reason. It shouldn’t have even mattered to me- I didn’t even want to play hockey- right??
Except I did.
“What is a lie, Verity? A lie is a story told. That’s all. And we can rewrite our stories. All of us. Write our own happy endings. Our own redefinitions. We don’t have to be what we’re told to be. Even by ourselves.” – Al Ewing
I’m not sure whether to call it curiosity, boredom, or even desperation- a desperation to move past the habits and ruts I’d been trapped in since leaving behind my private elementary school, to move past the awkward half-self I’d become while attempting to preserve the core I was while fitting in with those around me. I’d let others visions of myself cloud my own self-shame. I’d built myself a cage instead of an identity.
But growing up is realizing that you are what you tell yourself you can be, that even if you’re not strong enough, fast enough, or smart enough, just moving towards the puck can be the right thing. I don’t know if it was Coach Anthony or Coach Mark who said it first- “if you see the puck, it’s yours”. You can’t wait for it to drift your way, you can’t glide half-heartedly towards it and hope Trevor or Simon will whip by and snatch it up for their hat trick, you have to keep your head up, stick on the ice, and just move.
I never would have realized that if it weren’t for Cindy, probably my best friend at the time, who came in one day and admitted she’d just sort of signed up for hockey on a whim. For a moment, I pushed away my thoughts of failure and embarrassment and took a leap of faith. I texted Evan, told him he was in (he seemed a little skeptical, which was fair) and I tried it.
I am the snow my skates shave off as I turn / I was stone but now I am water / I have stared my self-shame and known it was me but / I have pressed on.
Hockey has been exercise in patience, humility, and courage. Because of it, I’ve met so many different kinds of people I never would have had the chance to befriend, inspired myself to try programs and projects I never would have had the bravery to try, and I’ve grown.
So many different coaches have taught and guided me- Coach Valdesuso, Coach Benedek, Coach Dzubak, Coach Zheng, Coach Ken, Coach Gordo, Coach Anthony, Coach Mark, Coach Bob, and whoever that South River dude was who taught the Sea Hawks, (a team, I was mistakenly shuffled onto over the summer instead of the Howard team). They’ve shown me that life is like hockey, and hockey’s like life. You’re placed on a sheet of ice, given a limited stretch of time, and more importantly, an opportunity.
You can hang back and let others call the shots, you can quit and go home, or you can grit your teeth, push forward, and ride life’s slippery twists and turns forward towards whatever you want to be. You keep your head but you fight for what you want; You trust in your teammates and you never, ever give up on a game. The only person you can control is you, and that has to be enough. Be brave, be passionate, and “leave everything out there”. When that stupid, obnoxious, beautiful horn sounds and the game is over, you don’t want any regrets. Because there aren’t do-overs.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the aforementioned coaches, (Coach Valdesuso, Coach Benedek, Coach Dzubak, Coach Zheng, Coach Ken, Coach Gordo, Coach Anthony, Coach Mark, Coach Bob) and also the players who have stuck by me in some capacity since the beginning as I’ve found my way (Evan, Trevor, Simon, Brayden, etc. from the Ice Hawks and Chloe and Danny Wallace from the Buccaneers and now the Huskies).
To next year’s Ice Hawks- Trevor, Barrick, Davy, Andrew, Brayden, Madison, Noah, Sam, Christopher, Sara, Jamie, Carly, Angela, Jeremy, Henry and Alex- I have just one piece of advice, even if you don’t want or need it. When you’re on the ice, and you’re playing the game, don’t hesitate for a moment. Fight for the puck, and team, and the win because every one of you can change the course of the game if you’re a little brave, a little crazy, and you never, ever give up.
Thank you for wearing those yellow-orange jerseys with me through the wins and the losses, and giving me the chance to deserve it. I am all the better for it.
“Ice hockey players can walk on water.” -Unknown