I was never very sporty as a kid. That fact was not lost on my parents, especially given that under the same roof lived my brother, a child so taken with sport that he learned to drop his gloves before he could tie his own skates. On one side of the dining room table my sibling would test offensive strategies by pitting his peas against his potatoes while on the other sat I, glasses an inch thick and utterly unable to master that all-important skill of simultaneously walking and chewing gum.
Communication being what it was in my family, I once mumbled something about wanting piano lessons and found myself promptly enrolled in hockey school. I could kiss my ritual of sipping hot chocolate and watching cartoons goodbye, my Saturday mornings were now shot to hell. Through no fault of my own, half of my weekend away from the stressful and socially awkward world of grade 2 was now to be spent in the frozen torment of a hockey arena, a world where kids hopped up on Eggos and adrenalin took pleasure in exertion, sweat, and the drive to succeed.
You might as well have dropped me on Mars.
Decked out in hockey pants I could tent in, shin pads that were up to my elbows and ice skates that felt like they had blades on the inside, I staggered towards the ice. I was no athlete but I was no idiot either, and I knew if I was having such a hard time getting around on dry ground that my chances on the cold, hard ice were going to be meagre.
As I approached the rink a man opened the gate, and beyond the boards I could see that lined and circled surface that is familiar to all Canadians. The playing field that I had watched from the stands so many times was about to become my reality.
I recall being very afraid. I’m sure my parents were looking on anxiously and yelling encouragement, but I felt very alone. I remember taking a deep breath and, for the first time in my tiny life, just damn well going for it.
I’d like to say that when I stepped on the ice something magical happened, that my soul became one with the rink, but that would be a lie. If there was any miracle, it was that my parents soon realised their son’s athletic limitations and pulled me out of hockey school before any serious psychological damage could be inflicted. And though my sporting career met an early demise, I did take away some important life lessons from the experience, and isn’t that the point of amateur sport?
As I found myself back in front of the television with a warm mug in my hands, it occurred to me that sometimes you have to try things that you think you can’t do, and that failure isn’t always failure.
But most of all I learned to stop asking for piano lessons.