Hockey saved my life

by barbaragarn

Guest blog by [url=http://www.jmshockey.com/profiles/tolson]Terry Olson

As I write this, I sit in limbo–stuck somewhere between my professional identity, police officer, and one of my greatest passions, hockey.

At this moment I am neither cop nor hockey player because [url=http://www.jmshockey.com/jms-talk-f3/l4-slp-2-16-t1545.html]I broke my ankle at a JMS skate recently.

This isn’t the first time that hockey has led to injury for me, yet at 43 years of age I still play. On some level, I feel guilt because on several occasions hockey has cost me the ability to meet the very serious obligations of my most important identities: father and husband.

If you’re a middle-aged hobby athlete like me, particularly one whose sport has caused injury, I am certain that you’ve run the cost-benefit analysis a time or two. I am tempted to make that calculation on every so often but there is one factor in my personal history that makes that calculation pointless: It wasn’t long ago when hockey literally saved my life.

As a kid I never played organized hockey. The neighborhood rink was it for me. I maintained a casual interest in hockey and other athletic activities until the demands of self-funded college consumed most of my time. As a 20-something rookie cop, I didn’t need to work out to stay in shape, but when I was 30, I could no longer deny that I actually had to work at it.

I picked up some used gear and played a couple of open hockey sessions. I was thoroughly outclassed by guys with formal hockey backgrounds who were also 10 years younger than I was. I gave it up, but a few years later I skated with some cops from another department. These are guys who are about my age–guys with families, jobs and mortgages.

I saw that there was a place for the adult hockey player but I’d have look harder to find the proper venue. I eventually worked in with a couple of groups and I was playing weekly. I attended a couple of hockey clinics and schools and before I knew it I’d reached the level where I felt competent to be on the ice with them.

On April 30, 2006, I was skating with a group I’d worked my way in with, mostly firefighters, cops, and paramedics. I was fore checking when I was able to tip the puck loose and skate on a breakaway. One of the backcheckers pulled me from behind, spinning me to the right. My left tibia broke, also breaking my left fibula in the process.

I had noticed a bit of a lump on my left shin before this and it had recently become sensitive, but being a typical guy I hadn’t worried about it. I should have. In the process of treating the break, I learned that the cause of the fracture was a cancerous tumor, which was the lump I’d been feeling for some time on my left shin.

How long would it have taken for me to break my leg without hockey?
How long would I have continued to ignore the problem if I hadn’t broken my leg?

Who can say, but with cancer early detection is everything in terms of treatment and survivability. In my case, the cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else. It would have, ultimately killing me, if given enough time.

Luckily, the fracture healed, which was necessary if the cancerous portion of my tibia was to be removed surgically. If it hadn’t, I would have lost my leg from the knee down as the only viable means by which to remove the tumor completely.

I spent the next 18 months on crutches, having surgeries and enduring a variety of chemotherapy regimens. Today, five inches of my left tibia is comprised of donor material and the leg from the knee to the ankle is held in place by a rod and screws. Add to that the skin grafts and muscle deformities and I am easily mistaken as a shark bite survivor.

Now you know in part how hockey saved my life, but the benefits of hockey didn’t end with the cancer diagnosis.

Because I’d been playing regularly and striving to improve my game, I’d also been working out at the health club two days a week. The strength and conditioning that I had developed made it possible for me to endure the demanding medical regimen that was necessary for survival and recovery.

When it became apparent that I’d be able to return to my career it also became apparent that I could use hockey as the cornerstone of my physical rehabilitation effort. It was at that time that a good friend, [url=http://www.jmshockey.com/profiles/jdblasingame]John Blasingame, introduced me to JMS.

I started at level 2, eventually working my way to level 4, which is comparable to the level I was accustomed to playing before the injury. To this day, my left leg isn’t as big as the right and my stride is a bit lopsided, but I’ve recovered more than I had thought was possible and I’m still making gains.

While I was in the hospital last week with the newest injury (the other leg this time), I couldn’t help but run the cost-benefit analysis over and over again. It was easy to conclude that my responsibilities make it too selfish for me to return to risky activities like hockey. I’m the only skater that I have ever personally known to leave the ice arena in an ambulance–and I’ve done it twice. Beyond this, I once tore up my shoulder at a hockey school and on another occasion I spent most of a night in the emergency room having my nose stitched up, all courtesy of my old friend hockey.

This is a lot of “cost” to overcome in the calculation, but the “benefit” I’ve derived from hockey is just too great, even if you don’t factor in the fun and camaraderie that hockey has provided to me.

I owe it to myself–to hockey–to continue to play, even if my mother does think I’m crazy.