A (hockey) blast from the past

On the eve of the Gold Medal round between the Tigers and Jaguars (tomorrow night!! ahh!!!), how’s this for a #ThrowbackThursday? A little over 20 years ago (May 2, 1999), the London Free Press came to interview 15-year-old me about the London division of the CEWHA.

It is hard to quantify the role wheelchair hockey has played in my life. Back when this article was written, I would spend all week thinking about, planning for and looking forward to Friday night. The 2.5h drive from Port Elgin to London would always seem like an eternity, anxious/nervous to get on the court, while the drive home after would fly by…usually because I was fast asleep before passing Arva.

While I’ve had to take some years off here and there, wheelchair hockey is still a big part of my life – I now get to take groups of students from my class at King’s University College at Western University every year to experience this unique sport firsthand. Most of them are left in awe. Some of them leave terrified (the sport is a bit rougher than most expect).

More than just Canada’s game, wheelchair hockey was the first team sport that I could play competitively. It was also the first adapted sport that I could genuinely excel at based on my own skill and not because of the charity or pity of others. Until wheelchair hockey came about, there were no other team-based sports for people with my level of impairment. Too weak to play sledge or wheelchair basketball, I was left to solo sports where I missed out on that all-important ‘team bonding’ experience. I didn’t get that feeling of ‘belonging’ to a team until finding wheelchair hockey in grade 7. Wheelchair hockey was also the place where I would form life-long friendships with teammates of all ages, where I would learn from crip experts who had battled for disability rights before me and where, now, I get to carry on that crip mentorship tradition with young players just entering the league.

What hit me the hardest reading this old article, though, was the little reminder of how proud my parents were (are) of me and how much my family sacrificed to let me do the things I stubbornly wanted to do. Hours of driving through horrible weather, my parents ended their long work week month after month by driving me to London to play a game I love. They even managed to trick me into doing well in school through my love for the game. In part, I chose Western University for my undergraduate, in part, so I could be closer to wheelchair hockey.

I hope in my life I am able to love and care as radically, constantly, and fully as my parents do for my sister and me. My parents were, are and will always be the absolute best.

Back in May of 1999, I wonder if 15-year-old Jeff dedicated that double hat-trick to them? If he didn’t, 20 years later, I can confidently say that one and all the others were all for and because of you, Gail & Dave.