I first read about Special Hockey on my friend Jean’s blog. She raved about the effect Special Hockey had on her and her son. I cheered along when they went to MA for a hockey tournament and I cried when I read about Jack scoring his first goal. When we decided to move to a “hockey state,” (Where there are community ed programs that teach preschoolers how to ice skate!) Stimey forwarded me a link to MN Special Hockey. I got excited, but after all of our selling our town home, moving across the country, and buying a new home expenses, we couldn’t cover the registration fees and buy all the equipment the Roc would need, and you need a lot of equipment to play hockey. I put Special Hockey on the back burner until the spring when I spent some time talking with a coach, a player, and her dad at an autism resource fair, then I got excited and started talking to GC about signing the Roc up to play. Then my neighbor gave us first dibs on the hockey equipment her son had outgrown, which was just the Roc’s size, that she was selling in our neighborhood garage sale. We were able to get almost everything the Roc would need…
Last weekend was the MN Special Hockey kick-off event down at the University of Minnesota Mariucci arena. After a quick meeting there would be an open skate. We bought the Roc a helmet, the only piece of equipment he was missing, and the morning of the event we had him try everything on to make sure it fit. He was pretty happy, and upon seeing himself in the mirror, he stated, “I look just like a real hockey player!”
When we got near the arena the Roc started to get agitated, telling us he was nervous over and over again. He gripped my hand and I could feel the anxiety humming off his body as we walked to the arena. I hurt for him when he is so anxious, and wish so badly that I could take that fear and anxiety away. We wound our way around and found the gathering of special hockey people, and the Roc was introduced to some of the players on his team. Everyone was very happy to meet him, and he mustered up the courage to say hello back.
After a quick meeting it was time to suit up for the open skate. The Roc immediately started to say that he was nervous, and as GC laced his hockey skates the Roc began to cry. “I don’t think I can do this!” he wailed. His coach came over and pointed out a few different people who could help him, and then a woman, Miss M, came over and started talking to the Roc. She was saying all the right things, and the Roc was still crying, but she didn’t give up. I was just about to tell her that he wasn’t going to do it, to give us more time, that there were too many people talking to him at once, but I bit my tongue. GC got him up on his feet and the Roc grimaced and yelled that his feet hurt. Tears filled his eyes and he was completely rigid We body walked him towards the ice, him yelling and carrying on the whole way. I let Miss M who was still talking with him take over, she wasn’t giving up, and I kind of wanted to. He yelled louder the closer they go to the ice. He was shaking, going slow, holding up the other players who were eager to get on the ice. In any other location, around anyone else, I would have felt anxious, wanting to allow the others to pass. But there is no judgement in this crowd, and everyone was so patient with the Roc. The other players quietly stood behind him, waiting for their turn to get on the ice. Miss M convinced the Roc to sit on a folding chair and GC and I went to take a seat against the glass. I thought he would want to get off the ice right away, and my stomach twisted with worry. He looked so scared, gripping onto the chair, as Miss M began to slowly push him around.
Oh my God, and then this.
Every time they got to a line, Miss M would help the Roc stand up and then sit him back down. He was grinning. I was grinning. He was so very proud of himself and I choked back tears behind my camera.
GC and I kept exclaiming, “LOOK! OH MY GOD! LOOK AT HIM!” to each other. GC commented that his face hurt from smiling. Mine did too.
Pretty soon the Roc had one of the players from the women’s gopher team helping him too and I wiped away tears over and over watching everyone encourage the Roc. The little girl in red, a sibling of a player, stayed with the Roc the whole time, cheering him and helping him.
It was awesome. For the Roc to go from total terror, practically having a panic attack, to getting out there, trying, and smiling. He was loving it. As the ice cleared out, the volunteer from the gophers started pushing the Roc fast on the chair.
When the open skate time was up, the Roc was so wound up and excited. As we walked to the car he said, “I did it! I had fun!”
“Are you proud of yourself Roc? You were so scared at first, but you did it, and now it’s not so scary anymore right?”
“It’s not so scary anymore Mommy. I did it! I am proud of myself!” he exclaimed.
I am too. So very proud of my guy. We decided to celebrate and took the Roc out for pizza. He deserved it. As we were eating GC said to me, “What a good day. One of the best in a long time.”
Yup. It was.
I wanted to follow up, because I forgot to tell you this and it keeps putting a smile on my face whenever I think of it-
I wrote her back and sent her a few of the pictures I took of them together on the ice. Not enough can be said about people who volunteer their precious free time to organizations like Special Hockey. I thanked her multiple times on Sunday for helping the Roc and again in an email. Her response,
It truly truly is my pleasure to help. This will be my fourth year volunteering with the organization and being a part of it has been, without question, the best thing that I’ve done since moving to Minnesota. It helps me remember why I’m here doing what I’m doing. (I am currently a doc student in School Psychology at the U.)
Good luck with your season, and I look forward to seeing you when the Stingers and Wildcats play!
Not enough can be said about people like Miss M.
We look forward to seeing her and all of the players, coaches, and volunteers in November when the season officially starts.