Saturday, October 1, 2011

The One-Timer, and why I miss it.

There was a time in my life when I hated running.  Truly hated it.

The Army made me do it and I often did everything I could to get out of it.  I wasn't above faking injuries.    I never did this after I actually commissioned and started acting like an adult, but as a stupid college kid, I did it all the time.

I wasn't fat.

I wasn't lazy.

I was just into other stuff.

August of 1996 was a pretty exciting time.  New college, new friends, new dorm room away from home and as luck would have it, a new inline hockey rink right smack dab in the middle of Colorado State University.

This, as it turns out, was not going to be good for my GPA.

Four years prior to this, I had caught the hockey bug . . .Bad.  I had always had an interest really (my mother's first husband was what you MIGHT call semi-pro) but I remember seeing a live game my Freshman year and thought, "I'm going to learn this game.  If it kills me."

And so, with the same voracity that I currently pursue running, I taught myself how to play.  With no ice around, I was limited to roller-blades.  I grew up roller skating so this wasn't much of a transition.  Turns out I was fast.  Much faster than most in fact, but I was always by myself or with my friend Kevin who happened to be from Michigan.  So there I was, skating around garbage cans and moving a tennis ball around in an abandoned cul-de-sac in Lake Tahoe with my friend Kevin teaching me the basics.  He realistically suggested I learn how to play solid Defense, because my puck skills sucked.  So I did.

Four years later I was nearly passable as someone that had played for a while.  One small problem.  I had never actually played on any kind of team.  No pickup hockey.  Nothing.  The closest I had ever been to a break away was getting a full head of steam going through "pine cones 1 and 2" and attempting to fire a puck over the "milk crate goaltender" and into the "net" which looked conspicuously like a rectangle of duct tape on my garage.

So you imagine the whirlwind of emotion going on inside as I stared at this rink on that bright sunny day in August.  A plexi-glass lined slab of concrete that looked oh so much sexier than the pine needle covered streets of Tahoe; it felt like it was built to welcome me to my new home.

For the next six months that rink became my second home.  If it was sunny (and sometimes even if it wasn't) I was out there.  Pick up games were a constant.  I went through roller-blade wheels like a barista going through coffee filters.  Little bits of hockey tape were stuck to everything I owned.  I was in heaven.

And then there were the tryouts.  Colorado State was in the fledgling stages of starting an inline team, which would of course play second fiddle to the nationally ranked club team that played on ice, but that hardly mattered.  It was a team.  With real jerseys and shit.

I began to have delusions of grandeur.  I kinda wanted to try out.

My best friend Andy, who happened to be a pretty good player in his own right, suggested we go for it.  The worst that could happen, according to him, is that we got a few hours of free skating and it would be great practice, whether or not we made it or not.  Sounded great, except for enormous likelihood of public embarrassment I could possibly endure.

When we arrived at the rink for tryouts, the sights and sounds of the rink washed over my brain.  Pucks smashing into glass made that high pitched crack that always makes first time visitors duck.  The snap-snap-thump of pucks dancing around a stick and then summarily discarded into the goalies pads.  Coaches screaming classic aphorisms like "24 square feet of net Jonesy, and you didn't hit one F***ING INCH!".  The thought of being able to pull on a green and yellow jersey with my school's name on it forced a plastered grin onto my face.

Andy pulled me aside after we dressed, "Just play good D dude.  No one likes to play D.  If you do that, you might have a shot."  There were 75 guys here.  30 or so were going to make it.  Despite all that, I felt like I had a chance.  A "Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, like one in a million chance, kinda chance" but a chance nonetheless.

I felt good about it.

I felt reasonably prepared.

I felt like I wanted to puke a little.  Okay, maybe a lot.

So I skated as well as I could and no one was as surprised as me when they called my name as the 30th person selected.  I was asked to be the fourth line Defensemen (read: the lowest on the depth chart) but hey, I was asked.  I also got to pick my number last.  I chose the last one on the list.  A reminder to myself that I had nowhere to go but up.

Up, as luck would have it, would be a lot of fun.  I worked my way up the roster, eventually starting on offense for the "A" squad.  I coached a kid's team when I moved back to Reno.  Hockey even played a fairly critical role in the first conversation I ever had with my wife (but that's a story for another time).  And then, after all that, I just stopped playing.  Timing, kids, the Army, and circumstance all played a role in it.  I just sort of moved on.  Didn't miss it much.  But I didn't think about it much either.  Except for that one time in Afghanistan when I wanted to prove to the Canadians that some American Soldiers actually have some game:

That's me in the middle there, wondering if I had time to grab a Tim Horton's doughnut.

And then the other night I had a random conversation with a guy on the Naval Postgraduate School team. It's the B squad he said, and everyone is just having a good time really, but they need another player.  He invited me out to watch their league championship game.

I knew after walking the door I was going to sign up.

The smells were the same.  And they're not good, but so awesome.

The sounds were the same.  Too loud, but incredible.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up the entire time.

And so I must confess, running is cool but lemme tell ya, there are few things in life that compare to something like this:


So as weird as it sounds, I guess I'll be playing for both my undergrad and grad school.  I'm not sure how in the hell this is going to fit into my training schedule.  I'm not sure I care either.

I do care about whether I whiff on that one-timer though.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go see if I have enough duct tape to make a 6 ft wide rectangle on my garage.

By Marcus with 5 comments

5 comments:

Cool story and good luck to your teams!

I had a pretty lackluster hoops "career" as a starter in middle school and a JV bench player in HS, and was somewhat more successful in pickup games with a church group and later in college intramurals.

I don't think of it that often anymore or miss it that often, but every once in awhile it hits and me and i go over to the local park and shoot for a couple hours. I also occasionally get too proud of myself. "I couldn't even run a 5K in high school." "Yeah, but your high school self could still make a jump shot."

Reading this made me want to head over and shoot some baskets...if it ever stops raining here.

Didn't know you went to CSU -- so did Nancy and her brother Paul. Personally, in Fort Collins, I'd have put all my spare time into beer.

Ahhhh, your first love. You never forget it. Others may come along. May make you feel good. Strong. Challenged. Worthy. Even loved. But, nothing beats your first love. In some ways it defines who you are. Who you became. Who you want to be.

Yes, I run. (or try to). But, I too, returned to my first love this summer. For me, it's swimming. I was scared to go back. Would it remember me? Would it be kind? Would it love me like I needed to be loved? Thankfully, the answer was yes, yes, and eff yes. I felt worthy again. I felt strong. I felt like I could do anything. Even better yet, I was smokin all the boys on DM. (hee, hee). I don't have that 6ft wide rectangle. I have the black line. It guides me. Back to my first love.

Yes, I'll run. I need it. It heals me. But, it will never give me what swimming gives me.

Good luck with the hockey. Sounds like you are right back to where you are supposed to be. That is pretty damn cool. And better than any hat trick. :)

@Brian, well first night of "drop in" is in the books, and my back and arms feel every bit of the twelve year lay-off! The finesse of my game is completely gone and I missed a ton of shots I never would have in college, but it was damn fun.

@Larry, yeah, CSU was a blast until I ran out of money and had to come home. But I did know about Fat Tire years ahead of everyone else. There was a time when you couldn't get it.

@Andrea, yeah, she remembers me, but only barely. All the other kids kept commenting on the cool "classic" nature of all my gear. "Dude, those are the first inline hockey skates ever!" They would say. Ugh. :)

It's always good to hear about anybody getting into hockey. And Fat Tire. I never made it to FoCo all that often, but always made sure to do the brewery tour when I could.

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