Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Hockey Life: Getting busier

Over the past six weeks, I've made quite a big deal out of my newfound hobby of walking. More so on Facebook and Twitter than a single post here on the blog, I've posted milestones and my miles reached since I started pounding the pavement.

Just last week, for instance, I logged two 100-blocks-walked days on my way to piling up more than 31 miles. I also logged my 100th mile of October last week.

Those distances, however, may not be as great in the coming weeks. I received word last Friday that I landed a freelance writing and editing gig with a Tampa, Florida, law firm.

For us, that's really great news. Extra money, especially around the holidays, always comes in handy. This new opportunity, too, could also open doors to major changes down the road. Or, at least, that's what I'm hoping.

This new responsibility, though, comes with a small price: It'll likely cut into the time available, especially during the early afternoon, to take my walks. I imagine, too, that I won't be logging nearly as many miles.

In the grand scheme of things, there's more to life than making money. That's why I'll structure my days in the weeks ahead to get in a walk, weather and health permitting, every morning after dropping off Colin at school. And I'll find time to squeeze in a few more -- here and there -- to continue losing weight and get healthier.

* * *

It's not just the holidays that will put this new income stream to work. No, Colin's hockey picks up over the next few months, meaning we'll continue to contribute to the nation's economy by supporting his athletic endeavors.

Aside from his Central Florida Hockey League schedule, Colin and his Jr. Bulls Peewee A teammates will be playing in three tournaments in less than three months. It all begins Thanksgiving weekend in Coral Springs, Fla. About a month later, between Christmas and New Year's Day, there's another in Estero, Fla. A trip to Atlanta in Mid-January, for a Martin Luther King's Day tournament, rounds out the trio.

All told, we'll expect to pay between $500 to $700 for each tournament. Between transportation, lodging, sustenance, tournament souvenirs and fees, it all adds up pretty quickly. Still, it's all about having fun.

* * *

Speaking of having fun, it has been increasingly difficult to have much since Colin joined the Jr. Bulls organization this season. Without going into much detail, as a recent and second incident has yet to be dealt with, let's just say there's an issue that, in our viewpoint, hasn't been eliminated.

All I'm willing to say now, and I've made this point clear to one of the parties involved, is that zero tolerance means zero tolerance. It shouldn't matter if people have been a part of the organization for years or months.

To me, it's time to send a stern message, even if it means making an example of someone.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Hockey Life: Patience

It's funny, if you think about it. After more than 27 years of dealing with deadlines, you'd think one of my better traits, if I have a single one, would be an inordinate amount of patience. Sadly, though, nothing could be further from the truth.

To me, the clock is always ticking. Doesn't matter if it's at work, waiting for that last breaking-news story to arrive, or at home, sitting in the car, ready to go, as someone else is inside the house, in my opinion, simply dubbing around and delaying our departure. As long as I can remember, I've always wanted to get going -- about five minutes ago.

For better or worse, that's who, and how, I am.

Oh, sure, I thought parenting and Colin's hockey journey would break me of this bad habit. And, in some ways, each has. Success is measured in moments. Failure, too. Still, though, there are times when I take a step back. At times, it has been more like taking a giant leap backward.

Over the years, in my attempt to become a more patient person, I've learned not to let situations outside my control bother me. Why get worked up, I'd reason, when someone else is calling the shots? Doesn't make a lick of sense, does it? To some degree, that approach has dulled my sharp edge.

But, when I have a say in the situation --something I work hard at to put myself in that position -- I have little time for anything that keeps me from moving forward. As a result, and this is often a conscious decision, I can be abrupt. Sometimes, or so my tactic goes, it takes stepping on toes to get things done.

Lately, though, I've found the toes I'm stepping upon are my own. And, get this, it's all about my lack of patience.

For most of the past three years, thanks to a downturn in the print journalism industry, I've had to work 60 to 65 hours a week, between the paper and my freelance efforts, just to maintain our hockey lifestyle and, on occasion, add to our bottom line. This isn't a complaint. I'd rather spend my time being productive, rather than sitting around watching TV, staring into a computer monitor or, really, wasting my time.

Earlier this summer, however, my freelance opportunities started drying up. A certain company, whose name is likely familiar to only a handful, kept shooting itself in the foot. Questionable operating practices and, ahem, committing a cardinal sin rocked the operation. Ultimately, these led to a circling of wagons for a handful of shell-shocked workers. As an "independent contractor," I was left on the outside looking in.

Rather than sit back, though, I took a proactive approach, offering my services to any willing (and well-paying) bidder. Though the bites have been few, enough to count on only one hand, I've managed to draw the interest of one big fish. I'll learn, too, in the days ahead, if another might be on the line.

In the case of the first opportunity, a project I've been working on for more than a month now, we're getting down to nitty-gritty time. We've had our meeting. I've shown my abilities. An answer, I believe, will arrive within the next week or so. As much as I wanted the answer two weeks ago, I'm willing to wait. It's that good of an opportunity.

The second opportunity, which is more in the formulation stage, represents a chance to reconnect with an old junior college buddy. In a way, that holds more appeal. I'd like the opportunity to get in, so to speak, on the ground floor and help build a business.

In both cases, though, I know full well there are no guarantees. Each, in an instant, could disappear. But these exercises, if you will, have taught me to be more willing to wait for the right opportunity. Individually or together, should time and effort allow, these opportunities represent a new path, one that could last much, much longer than my current one.

So, yes, patience is a virtue. Maybe, just maybe, I'll learn that this time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

For you, Lionheart

For the past year, Colin has had a "DW 77" on his hockey helmet, a tribute to Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who died in a horrific crash one year ago today. I'm thinking, too, it'll stay there for a long, long time. As a Daddy, I'll make sure it does.

Knowing, too, that you're a daddy, keep looking out, from your perch high above, for Sebastian and Oliver. Soon, they'll be old enough to understand all of the great stories they'll hear about you.

Rest in peace, Dan. We miss you here in St. Petersburg.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Hockey Life: Pink tape

Colin's question was simple enough. He wanted to know if he could get some pink tape for the blade of his hockey stick. Though I knew the answer, I asked him why. He wanted it, he told me, to show his support for the fight against breast cancer.

Since the beginning of the month, he has noticed professional athletes in the NFL and MLB wearing more and more pink -- gloves, hats, wristbands and shoes. Taping his stick blade, he thought, was something that he could do. So, that's why we bought a roll.

After taping his stick before Wednesday's practice, I figured he'd catch a little ribbing from some of his teammates. Boys, you know, will be boys. And as a new kid on the team, he has had to deal with a little nonsense from a  few of the kids.

I was surprised, later, when he told me he hadn't caught any grief. In fact, one teammate asked if he could use it for his stick. Though Colin told him to ask me, I never heard a request. That's too bad, too. I would've let him.

* * * 

Deep down, I know Colin's request was based on more than watching sports on TV. Sure, I know pro athletes are influential. Just look at how they're used to sell sporting goods, cars and Subway sandwiches. I just hope the athletes do it for all of the right reasons, rather than simply trying to look good or, more to the point, pad their pockets.

Whenever money is involved, it's fair to question the motivation. In Colin's case, though, it wasn't about the money. Within our family, as well as our circle of friends, breast cancer has affected many lives. Thankfully, some survived. Others, however, didn't. In all cases, it wreaked an emotional toll.

We talked about it on our way to school one morning last week. I brought up why the color pink was used. I also mentioned how pink ribbons can also symbolize the fight against breast cancer. More than anything else, though, I wanted him to know that he, like so many others, had a personal reason for doing this.

That's why I shared a story about a dear friend who recently beat breast cancer.

* * *

I met Jann more than seven years ago. I was between newspaper jobs and took a job-prospecting trip, hitting the road by heading west, with only two appointments, and no real interviews, on the agenda. Jann, a copy desk chief at a Western New York paper, was my first appointment.

After talking shop, getting the tour and making the acquaintance of that newsroom's tall dog, we headed out for a bite to eat. Within minutes, I learned the depths of her passion for hockey. She wasn't just a fan, but she also played the game.

Needless to say, I was impressed. In more than 27 years, I've met few people who held hockey as dear as I do. Even though I didn't land a job at that paper, I gained something far, far better that day -- a good friend and kindred hockey spirit.

Since then, we've kept in touch, on and off, mostly through Facebook messages. It was one of her Facebook messages, received after a lull in communications, that hit me hard. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer. My heart sank at first, hearing the terrible news. The more I read her message, though, the better I felt. Thankfully, she won her fight.

We've been in touch a few times since then. Of course, we talk about hockey. We talk about life, too. During her recovery, she said the most important day was when she returned to the ice this past summer. To her, putting blades against ice meant everything. She knew she was going to be OK.

That's the reason why Colin, who has yet to meet Jann, has pink tape on his stick blade this month. He plays for her. He plays for my Great-Aunt Carolyne. He plays for everyone and anyone who has been touched by this terrible disease.

And, like millions of others, he does it because he wants to. To him, pink mean strength.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Hockey Life: Going for walks

There was a point last Thursday, during my second walk of the day, where my body nearly overruled my mind. It was hot. It was muggy. I was tired, but I still had another 12 blocks to go. For a moment, all I thought about was getting back to the house, cranking up the AC and plopping my fat butt in my recliner.

It would have been so, so easy.

But then I remembered why I started taking my walks three weeks ago. Sure, the need to give myself insulin shots every night played a role. So did the need to finally take my health seriously. The biggest reason, though, goes beyond both.

About the moment I was hitting that so-called wall, I reached into a back pocket and pulled out my phone. Rather than make a call to someone to come pick me up, I punched out a text message to my Twitter feed:

"I do this so I can play hockey with CMS 37 some day. Getting closer with each step."

In less time than it took for the message to appear online, my resistance to taking one more step dissipated. Those last 12 blocks didn't seem that long. My legs felt lighter. And, if memory serves me, a cool breeze washed across my face. The purpose, thankfully, was restored.

*  *  *

For as long as I can remember, I've always been a big guy. After graduating from high school, standing 6-foot-3 but weighing 230 pounds, I've continually gained weight. During my 20s, when I was fairly active, it came from drinking lots of beer and plowing through plates of chicken wings. As my activity level waned during my 30s and 40s, my weight ballooned.

The low point, so to speak, came when I topped 400 pounds. Honestly, I never knew how much I weighed, as the doctor's scales topped out at 400. On the outside, I'd joke about it to the nurse or the doctor. Deep down inside, though, I was horrified. I was living on borrowed time.

One would think, or so I thought, that watching Colin grow up would motivate me to do something about my weight. And, at times, it has. I'd drop some weight, to the point where I could weigh myself and say, to anyone who cared to listen, that I was heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, my weakness for food and disdain for exercise would win out. I'd gain back the weight I had lost.

I've followed this unhealthy cycle for the past decade. As a result, my attempt to control my Type 2 diabetes with ever-increasing doses of medicine failed to achieve the desired result. At my last doctor's visit, with Colin in the examination room with me, I learned that I had to take the next step -- nightly injections of insulin by sticking a needle into my midsection.

It was then that I knew what I'd been doing wasn't nearly enough. Not even close. The puzzled look in Colin's eyes drove home the point

*  *  *

It took me a few days, after filling the prescription for the little glass vial and hypodermic needles, to summon up the courage to give myself that first shot. I loathed getting bloodwork done. I hate needles. I hate getting shots. And, now, I'd have to give them to myself.

Two months after that first shot, which took me about 10 minutes to do and left me bruised, I now complete the process in less than two minutes. That fear of needles has become an afterthought. I knew, though, that I needed to do more. That's where exercise, in the form of daily walks, and a healthier diet, heavy on fresh vegetables and far fewer carbs, come in.

Over the past six weeks, I've built up my walking routine. At first, the walks, around the neighborhood or near Colin's school, ranged from 14 to 20 blocks every other day or so. Last week, I logged nearly 16.5 miles (250 blocks) in six walks, ranging from 32 to 60 blocks, over four days. If it weren't for being under the weather for two days, those totals would've topped 20 miles and 325-plus blocks.

That one walk, which reached nearly 3 miles, was a turning point. I could've given up, slowed my pace and accepted, with a ton of regret, that this was yet another failed attempt. Thankfully, I refused to surrender and I sent that text. It was just that simple.

I fully understand that this will be a long process. I didn't gain my weight overnight, so I know losing it will take time. But between taking my walks and eating healthier foods, I've begun to see the results. And, unlike before, I'm keeping my eyes on a realistic prize.

Some day, within the next year or so, I will hit the ice to play hockey with Colin. And, on that day, the first of many when I pass along more of life's lessons, I can't wait to see the look in his eyes.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

The only benefit?

Thanks to the lockout, I figured that any attempts to add autographs from NHL players this season would likely pass by the wayside. That was until today's mail arrived.

It seems like Minnesota's Mikko Koivu put his newfound free time to good use recently to catch up on his mail, signing this trio of cards for Colin. Honestly, I had forgotten that we'd sent them to him.

While I'm pretty psyched that Koivu completed the O-Pee-Chee Rookie-Sophomore Showdown card, left, that he shares with Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar, getting back two work-in-progress specialty set cards was just as exciting.