Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Hockey Life: Accepting risks

When you work in the newspaper industry, bad news is part of the drill. A young father gets killed in Afghanistan. A motorcycle wreck claims yet another life. The cruel abuse animals. Day after day, unfortunately, it goes on.

Over time, it's easy to become desensitized by the news. Unfortunately, these events, the tragedies you know rip apart others lives, mean very little. They're just another headline to write, another story to edit and, yes, another deadline to make. That's one of the things I dislike about my profession.

Last week, we had another tragedy to report. A 12-year-old boy, driving a race car at a central Florida track, hit the wall hard. His injuries were severe. Rescue personnel had to cut him out of the car. A few days later, this young warrior died of his injuries.

To the racing community, his death served as a reminder of the dangers inherent to the sport of racing. Still, some parents said, it wouldn't stop them from letting their child get behind the wheel for another race this weekend. Doing so, they reasoned, would honor the boy's memory.

To me, this sad, sad story of death was different. It hit home. It just wasn't a headline to write. Nor was it simply another story to edit. And, really, I didn't give a rat's ass about deadlines.

For parents, losing a child, no matter the age or circumstances, is the absolute worst nightmare.

When Colin started playing hockey, I knew he would face certain risks within playing the game. Hockey is a physical sport. From bumps and bruises to cheap-shot hits from behind, there's a certain amount of risk associated with the game.

Every year, it seems, bad news of serious injuries breaks. Players get cut by razor-sharp skate blades. Bad hits, intentional or otherwise, paralyze others. A frozen puck, in an ill-timed moment of misfortune, stops a heart. Yes, hockey is that dangerous.

That's one of the reasons hockey parents spend as much money as they do on equipment. In our case, we've paid more for Colin's latest helmet than his skates. You'd find two, not just one, neck guards in his hockey bag. He has been taught, too, that it's better to turtle -- and skate another shift -- than it is to take a nasty hit head-on.

Yes, I suppose it would be easier, and likely far smarter, to eliminate these risks. I'm sure there's just as much satisfaction to be gained through playing less-risky sports or participating in safer activities. I'll admit, sleep was a little hard to come by this past week as I wrestled with this question.

As hockey parents, we have to accept these risks, albeit sometimes hesitantly, every time we send our child out onto the ice. It doesn't matter if it's a practice, stick-and-shoot or travel-team league game. All it takes is a heartbeat for the world to spin 180 degrees. Living with that possibility is a fact of life, not just the hockey life.

To me, the benefits Colin gains through playing hockey outweigh the risks of what could happen. He has learned the value of teamwork and setting goals. Losses have taught him what it takes to win. And, if he's lucky, he'll realize the reward for his hard work. These aren't just hockey lessons, either.

If you think about it, we face risks every day we climb out of bed. Riding a bicycle is dangerous. So is walking across a street. And, like that 12-year-old boy, there's no guarantee we'll arrive at our destination any time we get behind a wheel. Does that keep us from living our lives? No.

Though I seldom set foot in a church, I do believe in God. Through personal experiences, gained from reckless days more than 25 years ago, I also believe in guardian angels. That's why I ask them all to watch over Colin, not just in hockey, but in everything he does.

Knock on wood, my prayers, for Colin as well as others, will continue to be answered.

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