You know, often we think we have it really tough. We don’t like this, we don’t like that, maybe it’s our coach, maybe it’s our line mates, maybe it’s our co-workers, maybe we didn’t get that promotion and just maybe we weren’t on the ice in the last 30 seconds for an OZ faceoff in the final game. But we can play. And if tomorrow shows up like it did today and yesterday, we can play then too. In fact, your likely going to be able to play most of your life, but some of us can’t. It’s not our fault, it’s not God’s fault, it’s just the way it is, we were built like that, or maybe even something happened to us, a sickness, an accident that impedes us from playing the game we love.
A few thoughts come to mind. One is BJ Munroe. He was a young 16 year old defenceman when I was playing Tier 2 Junior with the Cobourg Cougars. We we’re in the playoffs and had a night off and BJ didn’t make it home. It rocked our team, it was the first and only time that one of my teammates passed away. I don’t talk about it very much but I should. God bless you buddy.
The next one is Travis Roy. During my first year of college hockey at St.Lawrence, I remember being in the dressing room and watching the newscast about this young freshman at BU that went awkwardly into the boards in his first ever shift at Boston University. The impact cracked Travis’ fourth and fifth vertebra, leaving him a quadriplegic. It was impactful because at the time I was also a freshman, hockey was everything to me and it made me really think what I would do if it was taken away.
Another one is the guy that just walked by me at the O’Hare airport while en route to Madison, WI, to train a few players. In all my years, I had never seen the diameter of the tibial and calf musculature to be so pronounced. His genetic makeup left him extremely flat footed in his gait (walking) and left virtually no ability for the ankle to dorsiflex (flex forward) to produce another stride cycle. After charging forward for a bit, he relinquished to a wheel chair and was transported to his next gate.
There are so many other examples. My good friend Stu who survived a horrific car wreck and is confined to a wheel chair, my brother Ethan who passed away a year this Jan in a tragic construction accident, the late NHL coach Roger Neilson, the Yaroslavl airplane tragedy and one that is close to all of our hearts at this time, the bus crash that took the lives of 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos Junior Team on Saskatchewan Highway 35, April 6, 2018.
When my days go south and negative thoughts race through my head of the world crashing down, how come this happened, why is it so hard, how do I deal with this tough situation etc. I think of these people. They are my heroes. You know why? Because history transcends the future. These people through their lives elevate humanity and connect the human spirit.
BJ showed our group to never take a day for granted. A lesson learned very early in our young hockey careers. He is honoured routinely by the Cobourg Cougars and the Cobourg Community. Travis went on to build the Travis Roy Foundation for Spinal Research, today that organization has distributed over 9M dollars in individual grants and to research projects and rehabilitation institutions across North America. The guy at the O’Hare airport lifted my spirits and he didn’t even know it. He battled his walk and before sitting down in that chair he smiled and helped an elderly lady sit in a chair at a neighboring gate, I just looked and said to myself, good for you bud, your living, your my hero today. My day that started at 5am and a little fatigued because of endless delays was just wiped away with that act of courage, it got me going, ready to tackle a late practice for the guys that was supposed to be at 1pm.
My friend Stu is always happy and super energetic. He lifts me and my entire family up every time we see him. He battled, believed and stayed courageous. He obtained his PHD and is now a University Professor. My brother Ethan’s love for kids and the Ottawa Valley has blossomed from his foundation that is helping and serving kids who can’t afford to play hockey. The Ottawa community has felt the love of Roger Neilson, just head down to CHEO for an afternoon and you’ll see some of the work that was done to honour him as part of Roger’s House, a palliative care facility supporting the needs of children, youth and their families. 16,000 Days of care have been provided since its opening in 2006. The Yaroslavl tragedy created immense ripple effects in the hockey community. All of the players we’re honoured and all who played in the NHL, players like Pavol Demitra, Igor Korolev, Karlis Skrastins, Josef Vasicek, Ruslan Salei, Karel Rachunek, Alexander Vasyunov and Head Coach Brad McCrimmon had stickers or patches created by their NHL teams to honour them throughout the season.
The Humbolt tragedy recently reinforced the bond of love created by the hockey community. A GoFundMe page raised 15M dollars for the affected families and countless organizations of support led families and the community into prayer, chapels and services to ease the pain of suffering. Crash survivor Ryan Straschnitzski, paralyzed from the chest down and despite being told he will never walk again, is determined to overcome and challenges that may come his way. Kaleb Dahlgren, despite having a fractured skull, a punctured wound in his head, a brain injury and six broken vertebrae was seen recently stickhandling and juggling a ball in his driveway on twitter, and incredible feat. While a full recovery is rare, he’s committed to come back and play saying “I need to do it for them”.
No one really knows why these things happen. But one thing I can tell you. It sure makes me appreciate. It sure makes me respect. It’s often easy to look at the negative in our lives, in our job, in our game, in our coaches or co-workers. It’s often easy to look at the negative, short term view of these tragedies. And your right, it’s devastation, it’s awful and so absolute. But we need to get up, we need to move on and press on toward the goal. History remembers it’s heroes and the human spirit is magic. It transcends us. It rises us up, just like BJ, just like Travis, just like Stu, just like Ethan, just like Roger, just like the Yaroslavl TEAM, just like the Humbolt TEAM and just like the man at O’hare today, did for me.