There is an area in my mind where the world of sports and my real life blur, where the mysteries and nuances of the game seem more profound than life’s most heated questions. When I reached this crossroads as an eight year-old, I was faced with a critical decision: would I forsake my peripheral life for the sports my life had revolved around since I could remember, or would I realize that my two worlds could unite to create the elusive “well-rounded life” everyone searches for? I knew the answer had to come from hockey, the game which I had assigned a mind and spirit of its own when I first befriended it as a toddler. I just didn’t know when or how.
At the time, my youth hockey career was more important than anything else in my life. I lived for Friday nights and Saturday afternoons and nothing else. My hockey team was my family; those parents in the stands were nothing more than acquaintances who served as shuttles to and from the rink. The outcome of the game determined my attitude for the rest of the weekend; this season, that attitude was sadly consistent weekend after weekend. We lost every game that season. I was crushed; the glory of victory which had sustained me for so long had been taken from me. After one particularly crushing defeat, I looked inside the hole where the pride of the victor had once been and was surprised to see that losing the game did not leave me with the dejected bitterness and emptiness I had expected. I thrust those negative emotions on myself when I pressured hockey to be my entire purpose for being, when I forced myself to feel total shame after a loss and to neglect the subtleties of the game that I had cherished my whole life.
I didn’t play hockey for the victor’s glory. I played for the rush of sheer competition itself, the thick sound of a hockey puck against anything. I loved the cool air hanging over the ice, the whir of the Zamboni, and the whine of the skate sharpener in the locker room. Most of all, I loved the post-game handshake, those precious seconds when you took off your glove, looked the opposing players in the eye, and exchanged a friendly “Good game, man.” The love of these things unites all hockey players, and it filled the holes where victory was lacking on that day with wholehearted joy and satisfaction.
I believe that losing turned my love of hockey from an unhealthy obsession which had overwhelmed my life outside of sports to a passionate, loyal friend who worked together with my normal life, sharing ideas and life lessons. Losing made it clear that I should not let my obsession with hockey control me but instead relate my lessons of hockey to lessons of life. I love hockey, win or lose. Thanks to that winless season, I love my life the same way.
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