#HumboldtStrong

Standard

 

P1020135

The above photo is the only one on this post that belongs to me. I’m not going to identify the rest, though, because this blog isn’t about individuals. Its about a team and a country and a country full of teams and dreams.

I haven’t known what to say since the horrific bus crash on April 6th between a hockey team of Junior players heading up to Nipawin, Saskatchewan and a semi-trailer truck. It has touched me on an incredible number of levels, for so many reasons. 16 people died in the crash, 6 are still hospitalized with 2 remaining in critical condition.

I’ve asked my social media world to share a photo of their tributes to the crash. Photos came in from across Canada and the US. Friends. Family. Members of the Canadian Armed Forces. Hospital staff. Our goalie from our vet med team. Former students of mine and the children of former students of mine. The rest of the photos are theirs, used with permission.

I didn’t know what else to do but I can hopefully use words to express my feelings.

 

humboldt

Enter a caption

This post is for the little kids who get up early on Saturday mornings or even before school to lace up their skates (or have their moms and dads lace them up for them.) The kids who don’t want to practice drills or skating. The kids who just want to shoot pucks and learn a slapshot. The kids who often got Timmie’s on the way to the rink and then got to enjoy McDonald’s on the way home.

The kids who look up to their coaches as their heros. The same kids who watch hockey games at night and want to grow up to be just like Crosby. They dutifully don their mouth guards and helmets and they learn to play and respect and love the game of hockey.

They are boys and they are girls and they are every color and every ethnicity you can imagine. They dream of professional hockey and while very few reach that level, many become coaches, parents of players, referees, minor hockey board members and host families.

humboldt2

This is for the parents of those little and not-so-little kids. The parents sitting on the bench sipping coffee and hot chocolate during those early-morning practices and games. The parents logging countless miles driving for hours on winter roads to play games and tournaments. The parents who sometimes have to be apart because one kid has to go to Fernie and the other kid has to be in Nelson.

The same parents who listen to their kids complain about the amount of ice time, or about the center who’s a puck-hog and never passes. The parents who try to keep their mouths shut on questionable calls and line changes by the coaching staff.

The parents who work hard to pay for that new pair of skates, the private power skating sessions or summer camps halfway across the country.

They are the same parents who watch their kids load into the bus. Or they’re the house-parents billeting a player who loads onto the bus. The parents who all expect to see their hockey player again.

humboldt3

This post is for the bus drivers of these teams who all love their jobs. Like my maid of honor’s dad, who drove for the Nelson Junior Leafs for years. Over mountain passes covered in snow with noise and adrenaline charging in the seats before the games and peaceful slumber in the wee hours of the morning on the way home.

Bus drivers who all have real lives and families and other jobs but they love being the man behind the wheel for these teams. Every player and coaching member knows the bus driver. Every host family knows them. They are as much a part of the team as anyone else and it breaks my heart  knowing the Humboldt Broncos lost their dedicated bus driver in the crash.

humboldt4

I write today for the small towns who have Junior A or B hockey teams. I grew up in one of those towns and my friends who are still in Grand Forks continue to root for and believe in our Grand Forks Bruins.

It was just what many Canadians do on home game nights. At school on Fridays we’d say, “you going to the game?” Players from other provinces and even countries play on small town junior hockey teams. Every year we’d get new players at the high school and we’d all sort of try to help them fit in, even if they stuck mostly together and even if they might be traded the following week.

This is for Grand Forks, BC. Nelson. Creston. Fernie. Kimberley. Trail (even though I’m from Grand Forks and we’re not supposed to be nice to Trail.) In this case its okay because we are all the same.

humboldt7

This is for the coaches of hockey players, who help the little kids when they hurt themselves and have tears streaming down their cheeks. The coaches who try desperately to decipher what their little Atom player is trying to convey with his mouth guard in.

Its for the high school hockey coaches who have to hold back the comments when their players are held hostage by their own hormones.

The coaches who listen to the parents with gripes about ice time, some other kid, or how the ref screwed up a call. The same coaches who hope the team starts to get along better, or that the girl’s team can put the drama aside for just one game let alone a season.

The coaches who have to teach the importance of skating, fast starts and sharp stops, stick handling, checking, respecting the refs and passing all while their charges just want to take slap shots on net.

The coaches who want every kid, regardless of their skill level to get a goal this season and really feel like they are a part of something bigger. Something special. Something they will pass onto their own children in the future.

humboldt5

This is also for Saskatchewan, the province I called sort-of home for my 4 years of veterinary school. While the players of the Humboldt Broncos came from Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, they all called Saskatchewan home this season, too.

If you have never been there you might picture it as a vast open space with incessant winds and bitter cold. You’re not incorrect but there is so much more. There is the scent of the prairies on that wind- of grains and prairie grass and hope.

There is the ice arena and curling rink in every single town along with one or two great cafes that all serve poutine with home-made gravy.

Saskatchewan is full of hard-working people who learn they have to drive to get anywhere. Its nothing for a team of players to travel for hours for playoff hockey because most of them and their host families have been doing that all of their lives just to hit the big grocery stores.

Saskatchewan was good to me and it has become a part of my mosaic.

Saskatchewan has had to bear the weight of this terrible tragedy but I am given strength from the fact every other province has stepped in to help hold their Canadian teammate up.

humboldt11

Its for the figure skaters who share the same small town ice rinks with the hockey clubs. They often share one sheet of ice with minor hockey, junior hockey and adult hockey and everyone has to get along.

The hockey players at school would bitch about the holes our toe picks created with flips and lutzes. They’d complain when our home club would host a competition or test session and monopolize the whole rink for 2 to 3 days. And they’d blame their early morning or late night ice times on the fact the skating club got a lot of prime time hours.

But they would also sit in the stands before a game taping their sticks while watching the sparkly skaters practice in front of them. In private, as we got older, they would admit having respect for our mastery of the blade and the fact we wiped out without padding. And then we’d get back up and try again.

humboldt6

This is for the fans out there who have never put on a pair of skates in their life. There are millions of you world-wide and there is nothing like a die-hard hockey fan. Some are fans of a particular player or a certain team. Others just love hockey and change allegiances each season, or even within a season.

Most just love the game with its fast paced action, the blistering flight of the puck, the plays, the camaraderie on the bench, the potential for fisticuffs and the unexpected results when a young team, a rookie or an old veteran in his final season step up and create a great story.

humboldt9

This is for everyone, everywhere who put a hockey stick outside their door or a jersey on their back in honor and remembrance of a bus carrying hockey players, coaches, a radio play-by-play announcer, a physical trainer, and a statistician to Nipawin for a must-win playoff game.

Its for all of you who shed tears even if you can’t spell Humboldt correctly. Its for the NHL players and the Stanley Cup itself who visited the injured in Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital.

Its for the outpouring of love and connection all wrapped around watching players race around an icy surface chasing a little black orb while following rules and respecting other players. Its for our collective love of the game. Its for hockey.

humboldt8

Most importantly, this is for the players and team members on the bus that crashed on a sunny early evening highway along the flat prairie roads by Tisdale, Saskatchewan. For the survivors, their families, their host families and for the souls who were lost. For the emergency crews on the scene and the hospital staff who had to watch team players struggle to figure out what had happened. And who had been lost.

Thank-you to my friends & family for their touching tribute photos. May we all forever stay “HumboldtStrong.

humboldt10

humboldt12

humblodt

 

 

 

No Place Like Home

Standard
013

Along hwy 200, just outside of Ovando, Montana

I have been to some places or events where I feel a connection- to the surroundings, the people, perhaps to the occasion or even the time.

I can walk into any ice rink in probably any country and I am immediately at peace. Cold, perhaps, particularly if its Rossland, BC but I understand and appreciate where I am.

018

No Zamboni required here

I can spot where the Zamboni comes out and where the dressing rooms are. I usually can tell right away what level of hockey is played there by scoping out the audience benches and by what type of heating system, if any, is in place.

I feel comfortable and at peace.

I feel that way in most veterinary clinics and with most animals. It was something I learned as an adult but I feel completely complete with something furry in my arms.

158

When Luigi first came home to Montana!

I am happy and able to connect with cats, dogs, ferrets, rats, guinea pigs, cows, horses and more. I can be a part of their community (which is basically how things run around the Fyfe Farm).

384

Mummy and Mouse, part of each other’s family

We all want to be accepted even if it is only by one person, or one dog. Its natural. Human beings are herd animals and even though there are many who seek out private existences in the hinterlands, most of us live within communities.

I have lived in large cities (Vancouver, Tokyo) and smaller ones (Bismarck, Chilliwack) and have always managed to find people or groups to connect and fit in with.

012

Looking west from a house in Ovando

And then there are the tiny little rural towns or villages like Ovando, Montana, where you would think the only thing to do is make plans to get somewhere else so you could do something.

Ovando has more cows and dogs than it does human residents.

019

Rural Montana cows

It is tucked back a little off of highway 200 so you have to make a point to come through town.

And why would you unless you didn’t plan your mileage out very well and you noted that the town sign said “Gas” on it?

There is no ice rink.

No high school.

100

My old high school in small-town Grand Forks, BC

No boutiques or spas or building supply stores. No fast food chains, no brand-name stores, no movie theatres and no mall. No medical clinic, no dentist, no dog grooming facilities. No cops, no realtors, no bank, no lawyers. No ski hill, tennis courts or football fields.

It has what appears to be an abundance of nothing.

011

Ovando’s old Western jail last November

And yet, this teensy blip that takes less than 30 seconds to fly past on the highway has something that reaches in and clutches your heart and squeezes in a way that love and community come tumbling out of your eyes when you least expect it.

Like at the school’s 8th grade graduation ceremony the other night.

003

Program for Ovando’s 8th grade graduation ceremony

My dear friend, Jessi, who used to be my veterinary assistant, is the mom to one of the graduates. She and Carson are part of a teensy, exclusive club of Fyfe Farm caretakers- they love our animals like their own and it was an honor to be invited to his graduation.

009

Proud Mom, Jessi and I at the graduation ceremony

Where the 8th grade class consisted of 2 kids.

Yup.

2 kids.

004

8th grade graduating class of Ovando!

Like I said, Ovando is small.

Their 3-room school combines kindergarten through 8th grade. All of the kids, regardless of age, must choose to get along.

And that is a real skill these days that I know a lot of adults haven’t mastered.

So you would think the attendance for these 2 youngsters on the brim of adolescence would be pretty small.

Not so much.

003

Part of the crowd.

The floor seats were almost all filled and the bleachers behind them were full.

Not with relatives, either.

These were the townsfolk and neighbors and café owner and servers and parents of other children who came to celebrate Carson’s and Madeline’s journeys.

001

Miss Valiton MCing the event. She has 2 really cute young cats and she bought my book!

They were the “summer people” who have just returned from Texas for their lovely season in Montana.

They were classmates of Carson’s parents, Jessi and Jake, who all had gone to school in Ovando years ago (Jessi and her sister each had one 8th grade classmate as well).

They were the new people who raise goats who have just moved to town whose children are all grown.

001

The program for the evening

They come together every year to celebrate the kids who have learned how to get along with others, how to make the most of an education that must fit in math and science above and below their own learning, how to listen to the older kids and how to take care of and help along the younger ones.

They all play together on the playground because their community of companions is small.

And its actually a pretty special thing.

008

Kids & parents enjoying cake and refreshments

They have traditions at graduation that many in the crowd had participated in themselves.

Parents of the graduates read “prophecies” of what they believed their child will accomplish or do in life.

Jake wasn’t there.

He’s busy protecting our asses over in Iraq right now for his 6th or 7th tour as a US Marine.

005

Howard Fly, Carson’s grandpa!

So he wrote a letter that Jessi’s dad read to everyone.

And everyone in Ovando knows Jake because he and Jessi and half the audience went to school there and everyone knows the family’s sacrifices and everyone knows Howie because he also grew up in the area and used to run the one store/gas station/hotel in town and he’s arguably one of the most hilarious people in Ovando.

But not everyone expected to hear what Jake wrote.

How he doesn’t want his son to follow in his footsteps.

How he knows and loves and appreciates his son’s kindness and concern for others.

How he knows his son would never miss his own kid’s 8th grade graduation and that if more people around the world showed a bit of the passion, respect and love that Carson shows to others maybe Jake wouldn’t need to be where he is.

002

Respectful crowd

And how he wants his son to go and explore the heck out of the world and meet new people in far-off countries with different beliefs and cultural patterns and meet a girl and fall in love and bring her home to Ovando to raise a family.

So everyone cried and that was fine because everyone there is kind of like family.

We got to watch the power point photo production run by the 7th and 6th graders and then we saw diplomas handed out.

006

Carson receiving his diploma from Jim, the guy we buy our hay from. They run cows just outside of Ovando.

And we laughed and ate cake and wished the kids well (Madeline and her family always came to my vet clinic in nearby Seeley Lake and they bought my book so I know them, too).

The kids are venturing off to different high schools in different directions but they will always know about each other.

Its how Ovando works.

GKP_8050

At the local café, the Stray Bullet last fall for my book signing. Howard and his wife Peggy visited and bought a few copies. It was my best-attended book event yet and the support was amazing!

They hold each other up and watch out for everyone’s kids and have community Luaus and they all go to the Helmville rodeo and they collectively cheer the local kids on as they leave the nest and they wait for those adult children to experience the world and then return to raise their own families.

Because they know just how special they have it in their 3-room schoolhouse and that the kids learn more about life and fitting in there than anywhere else.

And I felt very comfortable there and very much at peace.

011

Carson and I!

You could definitely tell what level of hockey was played at Fyfe's Backyard Rink... audience seating was pretty limited and heating was nil

You could definitely tell what level of hockey was played at Fyfe’s Backyard Rink… audience seating was pretty limited and heating was nil

Seating wasn't really even 'exit accessible' so help was often required (note Casey all concerned, too!)

Seating wasn’t really even ‘exit accessible’ so help was often required (note Casey all concerned, too!)

 

21 Years Later…

Standard

Right around this time of year, 21 years ago, I met Alistair.

011

Some promo pics taken after the show, the night Alistair was in the stands watching

We were set up by mutual friends and we both had big things coming up in our lives that made it kind of silly to start a relationship.

I had contracted to return to Japan for 2 more ice shows starting a month after we met and he was moving to the United States.

We were going nowhere as a couple.

013

Oh, Patti…. if you only knew! (Maybe you did) 🙂

But this wonderful, fun, special friend of mine set us up.

She also helped bring me in to guest skate that night in Creston for their skating club’s annual ice show.

I had babysat Patti’s kids when they lived down the road from us in Grand Forks and we had kept in touch over the years.

That year, 1994, I was living in Nelson. I was coaching both there and in Grand Forks, which was 90 minutes over a mountain pass away.

009

One of my Nelson students, Jessica. I don’t think she’ll kill me for posting this.

I have always loved coaching. I loved helping kids achieve their goals and watching them improve and seeing the joy in their eyes when they, too, knew they had improved.

Or passed tests.

Or won medals.

010

One of my Grand Forks skaters, Tyler. I’m actually more concerned that he has the connections to kill me for posting this but he is a well-respected coach now, too, so hopefully its all good.

That was a strange year for me, spending so much time on the road in ‘Duff’, my Mercury Topaz.

I had returned from a year of teaching English in Japan with several extra pounds and no fiancée. I was a half-assed vegetarian who kind of stopped drinking for awhile.

I blamed meat and alcohol for my weight gain but, really, it was just me learning how to be an adult in a body that wasn’t training umpteen hours in a day. And, really, you can’t have Kahlua and cream every night and not pay for it.

028

One of my Nelson students, Laura. Always a pretty smile on her face and she always got the jokes.

I came back to Canada without any of the goals I’d had before I went to Japan. I’d broken up with my fiancée by phone (I sympathized with Rory McIlroy last year when he did the same… hey, sometimes its the only way, alright?) and returned without any expectation of meeting anyone.

Which is why I threw myself into my work.

Until I met this guy.

021

Schwing!

He was in the audience and our mutual friends took us out for drinks afterwards and I was leaving and he was moving and we weren’t going anywhere.

But after our first meeting he drove from Creston to Nelson to watch my big ice show there, Starstruck.

015

Me and my girls from our opening number in Startstruck, Hot Hot Hot!

The biggest show I’ve ever choreographed and produced, this was a big deal.

It was also a bit of a family affair.

018

Little sis, ready for her modeling gig in the show

My sister came in as a guest skater for the show and also did a little modeling in one of the routines.

019

Svetlana working on my sister’s ‘do for the show

My cousin, Svetlana, a stylist, donated her time and did the girls’ hair for us all.

017

Me and a very young Robyn in Nelson

Even my little cousins, Robyn and Pamela were there from Victoria and came to watch the show with their folks. (Robyn is now a major model in NYC…. I can only hope the sequins, spandex and makeup from 1994 inspired her!)

And there was Alistair… happily joining in the celebrations and helping me host my champagne breakfast and video review the following morning.

020

Some of my Grand Forks skaters at their ice show that same spring!

And then he was in Grand Forks watching me guest skate again and cheer on my students in their annual ice show a couple of weeks later.

That’s the same weekend I met his kids.

Which was a weird deal for a lot of 21 year-olds but it didn’t seem weird to me at all.

They were just his kids.

And they were pretty cute, and old enough to eat and pee on their own, which is obviously a bonus.

And they met me in sequins and spandex and fishnets and I tell you, there is something magical about that when you’re a little kid!

026

Our hotel room in Spokane with my going-away buddy, Seemore

And then he took me to the airport in Spokane and sent me on my way to Japan to be Sailor Moon and a glitzy showgirl all over again.

027

My bedmates in our little house in Japan

Without the Internet back then we wrote letters and faxes and fell deeper in love… old school style.

And when I came home 2 months later I stayed with him in his beautiful log home in Creston with his sheep, Golden Retriever, ducks, geese and horses.

And I made some changes to myself.

024

Getting a grip on who I was with a big old smile (and horribly high-waisted pants! Ick!)

And Alistair embraced my quirks and my humor and even my family.

023

Little sis and her friend and I before a ride… said Friend fell off her horse twice that day. I didn’t know that was possible, to be honest.

And we moved to the states and his kids spent the summers with us and we became our own little family and we never cared much about our age difference and I went back to school and he was a doctor and all the while he kept on supporting my skating and coaching needs.

We didn’t have an indoor ice rink in Watford City, ND, but I had brave friends from Nelson and Grand Forks who would help with that.

And hard working, incredible friends in Watford City (Tim & Wendy) who amazingly agreed to help make this fundraiser happen.

037

The first Raise The Roof ice show with Tim & Wendy (my ND support group and source of sanity), Little sis, Jen, Leslie, Laura, Shantalla and Alistair

We put Raise The Roof together, revamping that Hot Hot Hot opening number on the outdoor rink and indoors in Williston. Each of us performed solo routines as well.

030

Laura, so impressed with the outdoor rink… but still smiling!

It was cold but it was pretty awesome at the same time. People sat in their cars with their headlights on, adding to the lights of the outdoor rink for the show there.

The crack that extended across the width of the rink from the cold only became a problem when Jen got her toe pick caught.

035

So much silliness and laughter in this pic, along with so much respect for the skaters & hockey players who joined my show and performed because I asked them to.

The Watford City hockey boys were part of the show, too, and I am amazed that they participated and maybe had fun. (Pictures are from the indoor rink in Williston, where we spent the next 30 minutes signing autographs).

036

The boys and I… hard to believe they actually wanted a part of this after what I would put them through in Power Skating

And all along, Alistair has supported this.

These dreams, these zany visions and notions I have. We did a Raise The Roof the following year but none of the Nelson girls made it. My sister and a castmate from Ice Capades joined us, though, so there was some continuity.

And its crazy fun that I’m Facebook Friends with so many of the skaters in this blog (and their parents!)

What began as a blog about step-parenting turned into a stroll down Nostalgia Lane and back to the frozen world of figure skating.

022

Looking like this, you’d think I would have driven a Subaru back then (no, that’s not my car in the background…. Mercury Topaz, remember?)

It turned into a review of who I was in 1994… a young woman who had been on her own and traveled and lived and done the ice shows and been engaged and coached in two cities and drove too many miles and experimented with a variety of styles and looks and didn’t have any animal companions and finally went back to being a carnivore who enjoys her red wine.

025

Becoming Me, with Babe and Shadow along to help.

And a gorgeous boyfriend with 2 cute kids and nobody to give advice on what to do because none of my friends were going through that back then.

Sinead O’Conner sang, “How could I possibly know what I want when I was only twenty one”….

I didn’t necessarily know exactly what I wanted but I knew I was enjoying what I had.

Immensely.

With no more Kahlua and creams….

038

My show girls… before boarding the train for 2 days to get back to Spokane. Thanks, Shantalla, Diana, Laura and Jen! I think of you guys often and its always with a smile. xo