When I was a little boy, I began my life as a large person. I was born 11 pounds and stayed stocky until I was about 5 years old when I slimmed down considerably. Up until that point, I’m pretty sure my dad had an open line of communication with the Green Bay Packers.
MY DAD: He’s HUGE!
PACKERS: Really? How huge?
MY DAD: He’s bigger than any other kid his age!
PACKERS (clearly salivating): How’s he at football?
MY DAD: He can flatten his two older brothers just by sitting on them!
PACKERS: But football? How is he at football?
MY DAD: Well, he’s three, so he doesn’t catch or throw very well yet…but there was that one time he caught the ball after it bounced off his face!
PACKERS: Um, he’s three years old?
MY DAD (obviously feeling like he was losing them): Yeah, but he’s as wide as a seven-year-old!
So when I slimmed down, I became somewhat of a disappointment. Also, sitting on my older brothers had very little effect as I grew out of my linebacker weight. I still tried, like almost every other little boy back then, to play sports. I tried to play them all. Football – too small. Baseball – too, um, unskilled. Basketball – too short. Hockey – we’ll get to that. Other sports – just wasn’t good enough. I had a lot of heart, just not a lot of ability. I was fast, so I did well at track and cross country, but little else.
I mentioned hockey. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I went to the Wilson Park Hockey rink and tried out. I couldn’t skate…well, I could, but I couldn’t turn or stop very well. If you put me in a straight line and told me to go, I was your guy. I also had a good shot with the stick as long as I didn’t have to maneuver around a defender…remember? Straight-line? So, here’s what happened at my first and only practice.
I had just managed to slowly turn around on a play when somebody had the nerve to pass the puck right to me! I did the only thing, and I REALLY mean the ONLY thing, I could do and made my way to the goal. It turned out that I was pretty fast on skates and actually made it to within twenty feet of the goal without a defender catching me. I took the shot.
They tell me the shot went in, but I wouldn’t know about that. Right after I took the shot, I realized I had to either turn or stop, both skills which seemed to escape me at that moment…well, every moment. I tangled up my own legs and flew over the barricade behind the goal. I imagine if people were watching, it was very entertaining. I know the coach was entertained. The urge to not laugh was very evident in his face as he ran over to pick me up.
COACH: Are you ok? (His lip kept quivering).
ME: I’m ok. (I was rubbing my left knee).
COACH: You didn’t stop or turn. (That lip of his was really quivering now).
ME: I know. I can’t seem to do those things. (That left knee was hurting).
COACH: So, why (he-he) do you want to play hockey?
ME: I don’t know. I just wanted to see if I could, I guess.
COACH: Well, (he-he) if you can’t (he-he) stop or turn (he-he-ha-ha-ha) maybe not?
Remember, this was back during the time where you didn’t get a participation trophy for everything you were terrible at. Coaches actually cut kids who were terrible. Building your self-esteem wasn’t the coach’s job back then…it was a parent’s job. As a kid, you tried to find things you were good at, and if you weren’t good at it, somebody actually told you. You moved on to the next thing you were terrible at until you found what you were good at…there’s no dishonor at being a good part of the Chess Club. Can you imagine if activities like the Chess Club or Photography Club were treated like youth sports are today?
CHESS CLUB COACH: So, you’re here to participate? Can you play chess?
KID (whose parents forced them to play): No.
CHESS CLUB COACH (rolling their eyes): Have you ever seen a chessboard?
CHESS CLUB COACH: Your parents made you come?
KID: Yeah. Look, can you just give me my trophy and I’ll go?
So, even though my hockey career was cut short (Yes, I didn’t return), I still felt a little good about at least trying. That seems to be a mantra in my life, try. Even if you fail, at least you tried. I choose to believe in this, even if whatever I try only provides entertainment for everybody else. I’ve actually gotten more mileage out of this story than I ever did on ice skates…