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.

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