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I Live Right Here

I spent six years living in my car. Most of you know this, many of you do not. The more people this blog reaches, the more it might need to...

Thursday, February 2, 2017

I Live Right Here

I spent six years living in my car.
Most of you know this, many of you do not. The more people this blog reaches, the more it might need to be explained. You can always find my story by googling me. I won't go into it here, in depth. The thumbnail is: I was in the mortgage business for ten years. 2008 happened. I lost my entire career and my home. I had to stay in Nashville because my daughter's world was falling apart at her mom's house. (We had been divorced for many years prior to 2008) I couldn't find work there so I slept in my car.
There is a whole lot more. A full book's worth in fact. But this isn't the place for that.
I'm only giving the story as a backdrop. When asked "Where do you live?" it was hard to answer. Sadly, looking back on it, the answer at that time was; "Nowhere." I don't mean I had no place to live. That was true on the surface. But this morning I was thinking about this journey I'm on to play college hockey again at 53. The thought came to me; "You live wherever you are at the time." I'll say it again: "You live wherever you are at the time." The emphasis changes everything. There are people who have beautiful, expensive, expansive houses and they aren't living at all. There are people who might sleep in the back of a Yukon SUV, as I did, and yet they are so alive and so full of life that one might think they have the life of a celebrity.
That's what's at the essence of this blog and this daunting task I have undertaken. I want to live.
I learned the hard way, during those six incredibly hard years, that living, and being alive are two different things. When people ask me where I live now, I answer, "Right here...right where I am." I want to live! I want people to look at my life and see something God did that seemed like it was horrible and painful and terrible and see something good coming out of it. It was all those things. It was horrible and painful and terrible. On the surface, so is childbirth, but the end result is something wonderful: Life.
I'm not attempting this hockey thing for some short range glory or to just gain some sort of fleeting fame. Being the oldest college hockey player in history will certainly lend that on it's own. However, that's not my motivation. I am doing this to live. To look around at the landscape of this place where God moved me three years ago and say; "Okay, what do I have in front of me right now? What am I going to do with that?" That, my friends, is being alive! I work for my alma mater. One of the benefits I get is free tuition for one degree at each level. I have my Bachelor's degree already, so the next step is a Master's degree. I decided a few months ago to pursue my Master's in Communications. It's a natural fit for me. One of the benefits of that is I will be considered a full-time student again. That means, since I only played two seasons, I have eligibility remaining. The opportunity is there. Living means I take advantage of it. I could spend my days getting that degree and not try out for the team. There'd be no shame in that. But in my heart, I want to play one more time. I long to be a part of a team again. I want to smell the rink and feel the excitement of an odd-man rush, and hear the sound of blades cutting through ice.
I don't just want to live here, I want to live. Here.
It's not just hockey. It's life. I have a beautiful guitar sitting in my closet. I enjoy playing. But I haven't taken it out of it's case in two years. I've been too busy. Too busy trying to earn a living.
Is that living, or just being alive? I haven't written nearly enough. I haven't told my story and motivated people. I haven't fly-fished the Tye River and I've been here three years.
I want to play next fall because it's an option. I want to play because it's possible. It's not likely, but it's possible. I used to think that people who said they climbed a mountain "Because it was there..." were out-of-touch hippies. Lot's of things are "there" but we don't necessarily engage them. I get it now, though.
Sir Edmund Hillary failed several times in his attempts to be the first man to climb Everest. One time in particular inspires me. He had lost several of his party in his latest attempt and was called to appear before Parliament to give an update on his progress. He stood before that august group, with a giant map of Everest behind him. He rose to the podium, turned and looked at the map, shook his fist at it and said these words: "You won...this time. But you're a mountain, and I am a man. You're as big as you're ever going to get. But I am still growing!"
That's why you climb a mountain. Or attempt your first marathon at age seventy. Or determine to run at least one mile, every single day for the rest of your life, as my friend Terry Lancaster has, and radically changed his life.
It's why a 53 year old man decides he has one more year of college hockey in him. Because every day when he goes to work, he sees the nicest hockey rink in the entire ACHA and he knows there is a team he might be able to make, and to not try is to not live.
That team is there already. It's not going anywhere. But I might be able to grow enough to reach that summit, and pull on an LU sweater one more time, and plant my flag on that patch of real estate where I am living at the moment.
When people ask me, this time next year, "So where do you live?" I want to be sure that I'm being honest when I say: "Right here. I live, right here."
Here we go!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What the heck is he thinking?

Well, here we go.
Here's how something like this get's started. 
Last fall, I was taking a reflective look at my life. It's what you do when you turn 53 and you are an introspective, over-thinker. It's not that I'm dissatisfied with my life. I am, but that's not what prompted this. It's not that I'm single and 53 and trying to fool myself into thinking I'm still 23, and trying to score with the ladies. It's not some phantom I'm chasing or the sound of time ticking in my ears like Captain Hook. It's something more. It's what Rocky told his brother-in-law Paulie in Rocky Balboa: "I guess there's some stuff in the basement..." Here, take a look for yourself: 
I was thinking about this scene last September when I turned 53 and I was realizing there was some stuff in my basement too. It's not that I have anything to prove to anyone else. I think the last eight years of my life are evidence enough of what kind of man and what kind of dad I am. I know who I am. 
And it's not that I need some return to glory, because to be honest...my hockey career was pretty unremarkable. I was a third / fourth line guy who played with a lot of guys who were a lot better than I ever was. But I was a great teammate and I knew my role and I was willing to play it with all my might. I never complained about ice time or position. I just wanted to play. I just wanted to be a college hockey player.
I guess I still do.
Last fall, as I was thinking about this, I realized that I really missed it. I missed the camaraderie of the locker room, the banter on the ice, and the chatter on the bench. I miss the smell of an ice rink when you first walk in and that cold air clears your lungs. I miss the superstitions and traditions, and the ritual of the locker room and the jokes and the good-natured ribbing from the boys. I miss the nicknames. I miss the way the room goes from jovial and loud to serious and silent as the game clock gets close to zero, and it's time to think about hockey. I miss skating out onto a fresh sheet and seeing the other team and thinking how this just isn't going to be their day. I miss the thrill of the opening face-off and the exuberance of a cellie.
I miss coming to the bench and thinking; "That was a good shift. That's why I play this game." I miss watching a teammate do something amazing while waiting for my next shift and thinking how lucky I am to be on the same team with guys like that. I miss that moment -the one that inevitably comes every single time I play- when I think: "Man I'm glad I play hockey!"
I miss being the funniest, most acerbic wisecracker on the team...saying smart comments that even make guys on the other team laugh. I miss line changes and linemates. 
I miss the handshake line and bumping heads with the goalie after a win.
I miss sitting at my stall in the dressing room after the game, resting and thinking about what just went down, and slowly starting the process of carefully removing and bagging all that cool gear. 
I miss practice and shooting drills. I miss winning face offs and being a defensive forward and the sound of my skates cutting the ice. 
I just miss this game.
I realized, after six years of hardship and two years of rebuilding, that I wanted a new challenge. This time, the challenge won't be to find a job or a place to hide my car at night so I can sleep. This time the challenge will be something I love. 
I'm starting my Master's degree this spring. (I've finally settled on a Master of Arts in Communications) Last September, just out of curiosity, I did some checking and I still have eligibility remaining. I still have eligibility and there is a D3 level in the ACHA. That was all the sign I needed.
I never was a D1 player. When I played at Liberty we only had one team and we were D2. And I'm not a D2 player anymore. Face it...I was barely a D2 player back then. But D3...I think I can get in shape again and I think I have one good season of D3 left in me.
So we're about to find out.
I kicked the idea around for two months. I started training, semi-seriously to see how I'd respond. So far, so good. So Monday (Jan 9) I start in earnest. It is going to be hard. It is going to be a bear. I am going to hurt and sweat, and grind. Two training sessions a day plus skating three nights a week. From now until August. No let-up. August is tryouts and I have NO guarantee from anyone. Only one coach has discussed this with me and he is excited but realistic. 
So am I.
I can't sit here in my kitchen, on January 7, 2017 and tell you that this is a sure thing. In fact, I feel slightly more pessimistic than optimistic about it right now. I have some weight to lose and a lot of wind to regain. I refuse to do this just to be a novelty. Our program has a lot of kids coming here to play, they aren't going to make a spot for me just because it's a good story. My goal is to really make this team. Make it because I'm good enough. Because I bring something to the table that they need. Because adding me would make the team better. 
This time I want it to be different. Different than it was 22 years ago. This time, I want to work hard enough that the game in my head becomes the game I play on the ice. This time I want to have more than just the odd shift where I show flashes of being a good player, and instead I have a consistent game. 
It turns out there is some stuff in the basement. 
I'm doing this to be a hockey player just one more time. To be a teammate just one more time. And, hopefully, to inspire someone.
Maybe someone out there has a similar dream and they need to see another person do it in order to get the courage to give it a try themselves. maybe my teammates will be better for having seen my hard work and dedication. 
Or maybe nobody gets anything out of this except me. I'm good with either.
It's going to be a long road and not always pleasant.
Here we go!