I don’t know if you’ve ever stepped onto the court and felt instantly like your head wasn’t in it. Even though you had spent hours leading up to this moment thinking about how much you wanted so badly to get into the game. Something just wasn’t feeling right. Your sneakers were laced tight, your jersey felt good and it was tucked into your shorts like you liked it. You had everything you needed for a great night of hoops. The problem was something just wasn’t there.
Was it something outside of the game? You had a rough week at work and things hadn’t gone your way but usually this was your way out. Your way to escape whatever it was that was stressing you out from your job and the pressures that came with it. Or could it have been something going on outside of the 9 to 5? Financial pressures? Struggles with a bill that came in and you didn’t know how you were going to pay it. You weren’t thinking about it at all beforehand and you didn’t know that it would bother you but something internally must be eating at you.
I’ve felt that feeling. It nagged at me one time when I stepped on the ice. It wasn’t a frustration so much as it was a sense that I didn’t belong. Belong might not be the word. Some might take that as me saying that I don’t belong out there with my fellow skaters learning the game. I don’t mean it that way. I just felt like I didn’t belong out there because I was going to get hurt because my mind wasn’t in it. It was extremely tough to focus. From the outside if you saw me, you might think I was frustrated. Going down in a heap on turns, reaching for passes and taking a spill and maybe not looking like I was going full speed. Getting up and cursing myself. But I was trying – I was just fighting something. I was fighting me.
We think that professional athletes are immune to the pressures of outside life. We look at them, see the flash, the cash and think they must have it all. The ability to play a game that we love and get paid to do it. But they go through it too.
The past couple of days the hometown of St. Louis Blues forward Scottie Upshall has been hit by a raging wildfire. The town of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada is close to the hearts of many in the NHL but especially Upshall. His brother came to see him play Game 3 of the Blues-Stars series this past Tuesday. Upshall didn’t know it at the time but the fires would take his brother’s house and so far the homes of Dallas Stars forward Vern Fiddler’s aunt and cousins too. Over 80,000 people are to be evacuated from the city while scenes that can only be described as “infernos” and “Hollywood productions” play out while they drive away on the only highway that runs through the city. A state of emergency has been declared while firefighters hope to put out the blaze but no one knows where it will end although the fear is that people will lose everything.
Upshall talked about the rink he played on there in town being gone. A place where he learned to play that he won’t see again in its former shell. When he stepped onto the ice on Tuesday to play the game he learned at that rink, he looked up in the stands to see his brother on his phone getting news about home. One can only imagine what Upshall thought about during the game, a feeling that I can imagine is a mix of concern for his home that overpowered him at times a passion for the win. The Blues would go on to victory 6-1 that night, by the 3rd period they were up 5-1 and maybe his mind wondered during stoppages of play about the fires. Seemingly the game had gotten out of control at that point and the focus was more on other things, I’m sure he was looking for his brother to give some sort of reaction. I’m sure he was fighting the urge to get up off the ice and go ask his brother what’s going on. Or to fight the urge to go find his phone and to call his friends. Or fight the urge to get on a plane and go find his family.
Every week it feels like I’m fighting something. Fighting skates (too tight too loose) fighting my conditioning, fighting my age, fighting my back, fighting my knees – but I’ve always had fun. Always. But then I didn’t. It bothered me. Because not only wasn’t I having fun but I was fighting internally pressures that I was afraid were going to end up getting me hurt. They say you have to just fight through it. I had to get myself to the side, take some time because if I didn’t, I knew I was just going to find myself somewhere I didn’t want to be. I still don’t know what exactly it was, but something outside the rink was bothering me. I wasn’t fighting something bigger than me like Scottie Upshall and it wasn’t life or death like the people of Fort McMurray, but I get what it’s like to have that conflicted feeling. I don’t know if you’ve had days like that, but it’s not going to stop me from going back.
If you would like to help Fort McMurray, the Red Cross of Canada is accepting donations.