Let’s start with the pain…
Week one. First fall. I feel myself going, and backwards: where you’re not supposed to land. Instinctively I throw my right arm out to catch myself. Mistake No. 2 and it’s a big mistake. It means my body lands hard, very hard, on the ice, with my arm trapped beneath. My shoulder screams. Somewhere under my bicep and tricep, where the bone is, something like a sharp ache.
Incredibly, at 45 years old, I have never broken a bone. I’ve fallen off a 20 metre cliff. I’ve tumbled from many bikes. I’ve smacked into underwater reef rocks, when surfing has gone wrong. I’ve landed awkwardly, turning my ankle, so many times. Crutches and I have a long acquaintance. Played enough Australian Rules football to know what it is to be hurt. Yet never broken a limb.
I’ve heard the pain isn’t sharp: it’s an ache. Just like this. Oh please, no, I think to myself.
I flip around like a drunk seal on the white, so-slippery ice. I get to my hands and knees. I somehow regain my feet, strapped mercilessly and painfully into rental skates.
“It’s not broken,” I tell myself. “This can’t end that quickly. That’s ridiculous.”
I skate on. All week, my shoulder kills me, but it’s fine; has full movement. It only reminds me what I’ve just taken on.
Week two: I’ve had a couple of practice skates between lessons. Looking like a total and complete dick on the Melbourne Icehouse’s everyday ice rink, dressed in my hockey protective gear, which is bulky and unmissable and not even remotely cool when all around me are people in jeans and T-shirts, little kids included, skating happily with no fear of falling. And I’m wobblier than a giraffe tap-dancing on slimy wet rocks. But what? I’m going to break a wrist now, at the start of things, because I was too worried about appearing cool to wear my protective gloves?
And the couple of short sessions are paying off. I’m standing most of the time on the skates, even daring to believe I can master the snow plough stopping technique with a little practice.
At the end of the skating lesson, we play Red Rover. Most of the people in this class seem to have been skating for a while. It’s like starting driving lessons – first time ever behind the steering wheel – and discovering that everybody else has been driving for years.
So in Red Rover – tag, in other words – everybody is darting in all directions, avoiding being tagged, but I’m not. I can do nothing but skate my wobbly skate in a straight line, no chance of changing direction.
Third round, I’m duly tagged and just as I register that fact, I’m blindside taken-out by a guy traveling fast and trying to avoid a tagger. I never see it coming, not even in my peripheral vision. Just suddenly slammed and down.
And down hard. Unprotected ribs smack the ice, full weight of body crashing. Head (in helmet, luckily) slams into ice, and whips up and down as it bounces.
I try to get up and am surprised that it takes two attempts. *
We haven’t even started playing hockey yet, where people get hit routinely. Where people try to take one another out. This is an L-plate skating class. And yet I turn up for work the next day with minor whiplash and bruised ribs.
What have I gotten myself in for?
This blog is an attempt to answer that question. It’s to record a plan so crazy that I simply had to chronicle the journey.
Hear me say this: at this moment, on January 18, 2011, I fully intend to be an ice hockey player in maybe a year, playing some probably very low level of competition in the Melbourne leagues.
But also understand that I know the jeopardy. This could go horribly, horribly wrong at any moment and in six months I may well be thinking: what was I thinking?
Which is why it’s totally worth doing, right? Let the Blog commence.
* As I try to regain my feet after that Week Two hit, the guy who took me out looks at me, in my Detroit Red Wings jersey, struggling to regain my skates, in a world of pain. He says: “Man, sorry, but then again I do go for Columbus (an NHL team: the Blue Jackets, beaten 6-5 in overtime earlier that week by Detroit) …”
I grin, despite whiplash and possible broken ribs and concussion. “That’s cool,” I say. “If I’m taking one for the Wings, I’m okay with that.”
This is hockey and I’m part of this world now. Even if it’s early days.