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The 18 Year Old Rookie

From the moment I learned to walk, my parents put me on skis. We've always been a skiing family, a tradition my mom carried over from her own childhood. Every Friday night from December to April we would pack up and drive two hours north to spend the weekend skiing. Skiing and I had a complicated relationship. I hated leaving my friends every weekend to partake in this family activity. As a young child who suffered with the gripping syndrome of FOMO, missing weekends filled birthday parties and sleepovers made me resent skiing, the evil which pulled me away from my friends. However, there was always a part of me that loved skiing, and as I got older, I made new friends at the hill, and I fell in love with the sport. For me, skiing is as natural as walking. It is second nature. It has always been a given. 


This winter I chose not to ski for the first time in sixteen years. It was an empowering decision: suddenly I had three whole months where I could choose my path. My life was no longer dictated by the snow and the mountains. I felt a new sense of freedom. In that moment I had planned to spend the winter relaxing, maybe going to the gym a bit, but mostly relaxing. In that moment I seemed to have forgotten that I never relax. 


Somehow, with much convincing, and a stroke of courage, I ended up at the sign up table for my school's girl's hockey team. I had never so much as touched a hockey stick, and had skated maybe two times in my entire life. The most recent time being the 5th grade. Half of me was trying to convince myself it would be okay. I've always been an athlete, it couldn't be too hard. 


The other part of me knew I was completely, and totally screwed.


As soon as I entered the dressing room on the first day of practice, I immediately started to panic. What was all this equipment? How was I going to put it on? I ended up borrowing some of the equipment I would need from a teammate, but was then faced with the task of figuring out how to put it on all of this said equipment. If we are being completely honest, one of my teammates had to tie my skates for me that day. That's how completely clueless I was. 


Getting dressed, however, was nothing compared to the biggest challenge I would face that day: stepping on the ice. As I left the dressing room with my skates on and my stick in hand I could feel my stomach ready to lurch. I was completely convinced I was going to vomit. As I lifted one skate off of the ground and onto the ice, my panic began to overflow. Suddenly I was standing there, with two skates on the ice, unable to move. I watched my teammates gracefully skate around the ice. Gaining speed, managing the puck with ease and stopping with perfect force. I on the other hand, seemed to be made of stone. I was rooted to that one position on the ice, just by the door. 


It was in that moment that I realized what a crazy idea this was. An 18 year old who can't skate learns to play hockey, I mean come on, what was I thinking. As I began to formulate my escape plan, a teammate, who had obviously been playing hockey for years skated up to me. She held out her stick and told me to grab on to it. "I'm going to teach you how to skate." The rest of that first practice was a blur. Maybe it's because I took some pretty tremendous falls on my face, but nevertheless, a blur. As I walked off the ice after that first practice, I was surprised. Instead of formulating ways to quit in my head, I was instead distracted thinking realizing I had actually enjoyed myself, despite not coming close to ever touching the puck. 


I decided to stick with it. That first day was hard, and embarrassing and I fell more times than I would care to admit, but it was fun. Two weeks later I was stepping onto the ice for my first game. We would be playing four games that day in a tournament, and I was beyond terrified. Although now I could skate forwards (sometimes) and stop (occasionally), I had no idea how this was going to go. The first period went by fast. I would stop myself in front of the net and hope that a goal didn't get let in on my watch. I would try to skate up the ice to follow my teammates and would promptly fall. As I walked through the door after that first period, my coach looked at me and said, "Nice falling out there." 


In the last game of the day I managed to somehow get my stick on the puck. I skated up the ice, with the puck, and could hear my teammates cheering me on from the bench. As I skated off at the end of that shift, I felt the tiniest pride. "For a second there, it almost felt like I was playing hockey," I said to my coach. 


It's been almost 3 weeks since that first game, and I like to think I'm continuously improving. It's no easy feat tackling a new sport in your senior year of high school, but it sure has made me learn to laugh at myself. I've spent so much of high school focusing on how I'm perceived by others, and hockey has taught me to just laugh it off. It's okay that I'm not that great, I'm learning. I'm pushing myself out of my comfort zone for the first time in a long time, and it feels really good. 





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