I remember getting my first set of hockey equipment. It was Christmas morning and I was 5 years old. I had just finished the "learn to skate" program and it was time to start level one hockey. There was a giant hockey bag next to the Christmas tree and it was time for me to open it as a gift. It was filled with equipment! I was ecstatic. I knew that there was no going back.
Let's rewind a few years. At two years old, I was running around the streets of our Texas neighborhood with a hockey stick and street hockey ball. I was hooked at the youngest age. Heck, my parents used to put me in Dallas Stars baby clothes. I've loved hockey for as long as I can remember. It's all I've ever known.
So once I finished "learn to skate" and got that precious sack of equipment, I knew that I was going to keep digging this whole hockey thing.
Everyone who knows me knows how much I love this sport. Everyone who knows me knows that I'm obsessed with this sport. Actually, "obsessed" is probably an understatement. Even my doctors tell me that they think of me every time that they see something Bruins related. Customers at work refer to me as "Emily the Bruins Fan" and my friends think I totally have a problem. Come on, don't judge me. I could be obsessed with worse things. Leave me alone.
I still have the pucks from my very first goal and my very first shutout the year after. I still have every jersey from every team that I've played for. I still use the same glove, blocker, pants and chest protector that I've had since I was a kid. To me, there is no sweeter sound than my skates digging into the ice. There is no greater feeling than the cold air in my face as I coast around the net during warm ups. There is no greater accomplishment than denying someone a breakaway. There is no greater smell than the freezing cold ice. There is no greater joy than being on that ice, in that net.
Telling an athlete that their sport is "just a game" is ignorant and just plain rude. It's hard to fully understand something that you're not passionate about.
Yeah, hockey is a game.. but that ice is the once place where I feel at home. It's the place where I feel like I belong. It's where I have the time of my life. It's taught me discipline, hard work, it has created lifelong friendships and connections, kept me fit and acted as an outlet for me.
I was listening to music on my drive home today and ironically, Kris Allen's "Live Like We're Dying" came on. A line that completely stuck out to me was "You never know a good thing 'till it's gone.".. and I just instantly felt discouraged.
I saw my orthopedic surgeon last week as a follow-up (3 months) for my posterolateral corner reconstruction. He fully reconstructed my LCL as well as 4 minor ligaments on the outside of my knee. With all of the surgeries that I've had, my knee is basically brand new.. but extremely fragile.
When you know, you know. And that moment that I went down on the ice a year ago, I knew that my knee was toast. As I stumbled to skate off the ice, I knew that it was my final game. As I was taking off my equipment in the locker room, I told my friend and teammate (Kelly) that I was done. A month later (May & June of 2014) I was getting my medical meniscus removed and my ACL fully reconstructed.
Even though I KNEW that I would never play hockey again, I didn't want to believe it. I constantly asked my surgeon when I could play again, and he always told me to "wait and see how it all plays out".. Last week when I saw him, I asked again... His answer? "You're done."... BAM. Reality set in. 17 years of the sport that I love and 4 major knee surgeries later - I was done. At age 21.
I can't say that I'm surprised that my orthopedic surgeon (finally) told me that it was time to hang up the skates for good... it was only a matter of time. But, really? (Before you tell me that my surgeon isn't God I know that..but I also know the anatomy of my knee and what has been done... and I am a HUGE risk for getting hurt again and tearing up my newly constructed ligaments if I play again.)... But... It's finally time to be done? It breaks my heart to think about. I long for the times when I would be the first one on the ice and listen to my skates dig into the ice. I already miss the weird quirks that I had about my equipment. I miss the smells of the rink, the cheering from my teammates and I miss being made fun of for skating barefoot like a complete weirdo.
Hockey has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember.. and no, it's not just a game. It's a love, a passion and when I play, I play with all of my heart and soul. Hockey has given me a lifetime of memories, a lifetime of friendships and connections and has been my outlet, my happiness. When I hear "but you didn't play pro" or "but it wasn't your profession".. I actually laugh.. because it's clear that those people don't know what it's like to be passionate about something.
Yes, it's a game... but it was MY game. My heart and my passion. It always will be. Yes, I can still coach, volunteer and watch hockey.. but NOTHING will substitute actually lacing up my old, beaten up skates and taking that ice with a smile. Hockey will always be my first love, and honestly, my heart breaks.
If I knew that 4 severe knee injuries would take me out of the game at just 21 years old, I would have cherished every moment of ice time that I had. I'm not going to lie, I took the game for granted, because I thought that I would play for years to come. In the Cape Cod Women's League, there are women in their 40's and 50's that are still playing.. And here I am at 21 years old, trying everything to avoid more knee surgery and having to rest every single day.
Yes, injuries took me out of the game for good.. but I am blessed that I can still watch and coach hockey. I must change my perspective if I will get through this.
One day, this will all make sense. Until then, I plan to stay as involved as possible (once some time passes).. I plan to focus on my running, fencing, lifting and swimming. Each day I am getting stronger.. and I am beyond BLESSED to have great doctors and physical therapists. My scars are proof that God heals. I am reminded of that every day.
If your passionate about something, put your heart and soul into it. Never take it for granted, and love it with all of your heart. Don't stop pursuing what you love and what you believe in. You won't regret it, I promise.
As far as my knee goes, it's doing well. I am still working on strengthening every day and I have my full range of motion back. I'm discouraged about where my injuries have led me, but I know that this is all meant to be. I am able to do 100 pounds on the leg press, squats, lunges and straight leg raises with 3 pound weights. My goal is to be jogging by the end of the summer, but it's up to my surgeon. (He's great, trust me.)
I want to thank everyone SO much for being a part of my ACL journey as well as this journey. It hasn't been easy, it has been painful and I've even wanted to give up at times... but I know that I can't. Must. Keep. Pushing.
If I could say one thing to hockey: it would be "thank you". Thank you for years of memories, friendships, ups, downs, challenges and most of all: pure joy and happiness. I'll always remember the many teams that I've played for, the connections that I've made, being the only girl on the boy's high school team, trying out and being selected to play for an elite organization and developing into the player that I am today. Hockey will forever be my passion, my love. And looking back, I now treasure every single moment that I had on that ice. I will miss playing terribly (I already do).. but everything happens for a reason. I am blessed and thankful. No matter what.