I must admit that I am writing this on a high right now. I’m high from the gold medal my son, his team and his coaches won yesterday for his Atom season of hockey. I’m high on pride. I’m high on relief. I’m high on gratitude.
To say this hockey season was difficult for my son and I would be the understatement of the year. I’ve never ever seen someone battle mental illness the way my son did. So many times I wanted him to quit. So many times I begged for him to “please not do this to us today”. So many times I wanted to give up.
But, my son…he wouldn’t let me.
He wouldn’t quit on himself. He wouldn’t quit on his team. He wouldn’t quit on his coaches. He wouldn’t stop because he loves, loves, loves the sport of hockey. He refused to stay home and often times he’d be in the middle of a panic attack outside the dressing room (wracking sobs, hyperventilation, nausea, yelling) and I’d beg him “Why, Owen? Why? This isn’t fun…how is this fun”?
His answer was simple: “I love this game, Mom”.
So, we forged ahead.
This season my son has taught me what true perseverance is.
And yesterday, during the gold medal round that went into an overtime shootout, no one was more surprised than me to see his hand raise repeatedly to step on the ice and take a shot.
From a kid that battled, and I mean BATTLED all year…he wanted to be the center of attention and take a shot? What the actual f—-?!
And this, this is why sport is so important for kids with mental health issues.
Sport was a safe place for my child to battle. He was never judged (or at least not that I saw and I’m a fucking judge beacon just waiting for y’all to judge my son so I can “educate” you on what a warrior he is). He was never made to feel bad because of his panic attacks. He was celebrated when he entered a room. He was part of a team that honoured him for being him.
Sport gave my son a platform to focus on and eventually succeed. Sport allowed my son to be a part of a team and feel supported even when he felt his most lonely. Sport allowed my son to stomp on anxiety and depression if only for a few hours and raise his own trophy of strength and power in the air.
Sport did that.
But…things could have been so different. I must say that the team he played on, from the players themselves, to the parents to the coaches were the most supportive people I’ve met.
I must take this chance to give my most heartfelt thanks, gratitude
Ian, through humor, knowledge, fist bumps, quiet chats on the bench and hugs allowed my son the platform he needed to handle what he needed to handle the way he needed to handle it. It is because of Ian that his players didn’t look at Owen differently. It is because of Ian that his players cheered any time Owen entered the dressing room. It is because of Ian that Owen had the confidence to raise his hand and step onto the ice to shoot during the gold medal overtime shootout.
To the parents of Owen’s teammates: thank you. Your kids should be celebrated and please let them know that their support of Owen has made me tear up on more than a few occasions. Please let them know that their unbridled excitement for Owen’s involvement on their team made him feel like a positive teammate and not a burden.
In fact, during the sem-final game, it was two of his teammates that skated up to him as he was having a panic attack on the ice at the boards as soon as he stepped on. It was his teammates that distracted him, told him he could do it and put him to work. It was his teammates that got him playing that game…not his coach, not his Mom…his teammates.
That is why
We’ve gone from not being able to get on the ice to, at the gold medal game, Owen walking into the dressing room smiling, joking and telling me to “beat it, Mom”. I can tell you right now it’s because of his coaches (not just Ian – Bruce, Trevor, Jody and Amelia…my utmost respect and gratitude for all you’ve done this entire year for my child) and his incredible teammates that Owen was successful
Here’s a quick glimpse into what Owen loved about his coach and how humor helps in sport:
“Owen and Ian, I’d love a picture of you guys today.”
“Ugh. No Owen, can you please just make a normal face?!”
“Ugh. Ian! Knock it off!”
“No seriously. GUYS! CAN I JUST GET A NICE PHOTO?!”
“Sheesh. Thank you.”
That was how the gold medal game started. Humor, support, love
What a season. I’m not shy about saying I’m truly glad it’s over. It was exhausting and it left my heart and soul bruised more often than not as my son’s support warrior. But, for Owen, this showed him time after time that he could overcome, he could have fun and be free from anxiety.
He could succeed.
And there, my friends is the number one reason your child should be involved in
Thanks, Juan de Fuca Hockey Association for having such incredible coaches. It is because of the coaches you bring on that my child stepped over his anxiety and reached this level of confidence…and success.
Most importantly, thanks JDF Atom C1 – YOU ALL are the reason hockey still lives in our house and the love of the game still runs rampant through my son’s veins. xo
Brian Kowalko says
Thank you for taking the time to write this blog piece. In my role at JDF I have had the pleasure of working with Ian and watching first hand his influence and nurturing of the kids he coaches and your acknowledgement is well deserved. As well, my wife and I have grown up with a child (who just turned 17) who’s anxiety and depression has consumed a large part of our life as well, so your story very much resonated with me. The support of so many people, including those in our “hockey family” have made it more bearable and I am not sure we could have survived it without them.