(* See what I did there?)
My third year of hockey life is underway and it feels unexpectedly good.
I say unexpectedly because I blew a knee, for the first time ever, right at the close of 2012. I have had many sporting accidents, fallen off a large cliff, played footy, come hard off mountain bikes, but somehow had never hurt a knee before. It’s not fun.
After the final night of dev league, my left knee was troublesome; just sort of achy. At the Next Level Christmas party three days later, I didn’t skate, to look after it. Being oh, so sensible.
Then, the next day, turned out in 38 degree heat for the final Bang! footy session of the year. Galloped around Wattie Oval for 40 minutes or so, then joined the bangers in diving into the cool waters of Elwood beach. Refreshed, galloped around Wattie Oval for another hour, including kicking only drop kicks for the last 15 minutes or so, in celebration of the Christmas break to come, Horse winning player of the year and all the joys that another year of Banging had brought.
Then wondered why my knee was hurting when I turned over in bed sometime in the long dark teatime of that night, and then went to get out of bed the next morning and found I couldn’t use my left leg.
The whole debacle meant on Christmas Day I was hobbling like somebody who had broken his leg in six places, and for most of Christmas week. I eventually went and saw a doctor at Lorne, who was hilarious. His name was Evan, he’s a total cat in Austin Powers glasses and he spent the entire consultation reminiscing about various Place family members he’d known in his time as a trainee doctor at Camperdown. “You had to be nice to them because if you were pulled up by a cop, it was going to be a Place, or if you bought something at a shop down there, it would be a Place serving you,” he said, staring out at the blue waters of Louttit Bay through the gum trees.
“If we could just get back to my knee …” I said.
“Sure. I’ll just call up ‘knee’ on Wikipedia,” he said, typing.
(I’m not making this up.)
As it loaded, he lent back in his chair. “Yeah, those Places, man, in Camperdown. They were everywhere.”
For the record, I am not related to any of those Place people, or have any connection beyond bumping into a couple at Lorne over the years. I even tracked it down once with one of them, who lent me a thick book, which was their family tree going back to about 1727 or something in England. Couldn’t find a single connection (which is kind of strange, in a small place like Australia).
Anyway, I mentioned this complete disconnect and we got back to Wikipedia, looking at diagrams of knees.
“Here’s what I think,” he finally told me, looking doctorly. “You’ve got an injured knee.”
Genius, I thought.
“If this was 100 years ago, we’d strap it up and have you lie on a bed for three or four months.”
Umm, I thought.
“But it’s not 100 years ago. It’s 2012, almost 2013,” he said confidently.
“Yes’, I said, feeling a need to get involved in this conversation. “Yes, it is.”
“So we’re not going to put you in bed for four months,” he smiled.
“Good,” I said, cautiously.
“Instead we could book you in for an MRI, which will take a picture of your knee and then you’ll probably need an arthroscopy. Now when will you need that? It might be a week, it may be five years.
“If you want to fan the flames, go running every day this week. If you want it to be in a few years, rest it for a week or so and see if it settles down. That’s pretty much it. Here’s my mobile. If you need a referral to get an MRI, just text me and I’ll fax one through. You don’t need to make another appointment or any shit like that. You know, I’m pretty sure, now I think of it, that one of the Place clan in Camperdown had a problem with a knee once …”
Turns out Evan has just started full-time at a new clinic in Fitzroy North, not far from my house. He is SO my doctor, as of now.
The good news of the whole appointment is that among all this eccentricity, he did push and pull my knee in various directions and we both felt satisfied I hadn’t done a cruciate or medial ligament, which would have been Bad. Something had flared, but it was nothing really sinister.
A day or so later, I hobbled across the deck of a friend of mine’s caravan, in Jan Juc. This friend is a highly qualified medical professional so when he asked to look at the knee, I sat and stretched it toward him. He grabbed a tub of some sort of gel and started massaging and probing the sore spots.
Chloe, watching all this, picked up the tub and read the label then silently handed it to me, raising an eyebrow in a way she does very well. For somebody for whom English is a second language, she misses nothing …
“For animal treatment only” was written in clear white letters on blue. The fine print explained: “- for use on horses and dogs”.
“Relax,” said my friend. “Athletes everywhere know about this stuff. It’s brilliant as an anti-inflam. And costs 20 bucks instead of about 120.”
And he was right. The next day, my knee felt fantastic. Was streaky here and there for another couple of weeks, especially if I’d been sitting, but basically started to mend.
So the holiday wound on. We travelled to Tasmania, dodged bushfires, visited the southern ocean in 38 degree heat, went to MONA where I got to see all sorts of wonders including watching myself take a dump through binoculars (true story – middle cubicle on the right as you walk into the toilets on the lowest basement level, near the bar) and watching a machine do a human shit. See video, below.
There’s a lot of shit and death at MONA, but it’s awesome.
Back in Melbourne, I hooked up with the hockey family again. Thursday night was a general Jets training session, where I tried to remember how to stand and move on skates after three or so weeks away. My knee didn’t collapse on me, which was a plus but my skating was as wobbly as you might expect. A Mustangs player and senior Jets took us through drills and I acclimatized to the feel of catching a puck with my stick again. So rusty.
The next day was Charlie Srour’s funeral, which was desperately sad, as it was always going to be. And then that night, there was a social game; Rookies v IBM. After the funeral, several rookies didn’t feel like they had it in them to play, which I totally understood, but I was the other way. I couldn’t wait to blow everything away on the ice, and it felt fantastic to be in a game situation, helplessly chasing some Swedish guy who used to play sub-NHL level in his homeland, and just feeling the burn in my legs as I tried to skate hard.
The knee held. In fact, the knee felt better and better with the work.
With every day of training, this is proving to be the case. After sitting for three hours watching The Hobbit, I’d been hobbling again, all creaky. After an hour on the ice last night doing skating drills and then an hour in the Icehouse gym, with Army and Jason Baclig pushing us hard, my knee felt great. My whole body feels great.
I’m training pretty much every night this week, planning to spend several hours each day on skates and in armour, or in the gym, and I can feel my fitness and legs responding to the challenge.
The Interceptors’ first official game isn’t until the end of the month, it’s still hovering in the high 20s, early 30s with the occasional day over 40 in a blazing hot summer, but I’m an ice hockey player again and life is fine.
The NHL lock-out is even over, thank God (and fire Bettman), and the Detroit papers are full of images of the Red Wings sweating it out in the gym, and doing skating drills on the ice, getting ready for a shortened, intense season.
I read every line, looking to see who is training the house down.
And then, half a world away, I aim to do the same.
Let the new year roll on. I’m good to go.
The fabulous MONA poo machine …