My life began on a cold January winter day in 1982, born as the only child of a single mother. It was just outside of Madison that I spent my childhood and adolescence growing up in near-isolation from most of the mainstream world. Aside from attending school in an environment with kids who were deemed to have learning disabilities, I didn’t really have much of a life. My main outlets growing up were when I spent time with my grandparents, and in the late 90s, the Internet.
I don’t have any resentment toward my mom, who always worked to help keep things afloat for the two of us. She preferred me being inside at her watch, and I contented with watching television and playing Nintendo, or playing around in my room on the computer my grandfather gave me as a gift. I could count my friends on my two hands, and I more or less gave in to being a societal outcast before I made it to 7th grade. I had no real exposure to sports except for television, and the occasional summer drive through parks where little league teams were playing baseball. I grew envious of those kids – being active, playing outside with their peers, and with full support of their parents and friends. I wasn’t allowed to join, for reasons that have never been explained to me. Maybe it was lack of money, or fear of me getting hurt, or that I might find myself involved in the “wrong” crowd.
My first experience as a spectator at a sporting event was when my mom got tickets to a Madison Monsters hockey game at the Dane County Coliseum. I was excited to sit so close to the ice, and watch the players skate by so fast and effortlessly, and scoring goals to beat their opponent. I never really gave any thought about playing hockey, but over the following winter I did attempt to ice skate on a pond with skates that were way too big. I tried rollerblading also, and I didn’t have too much success with that either. That was the last time I skated on ice or wheels until the fall of 2006.
I made my way through Junior High and High school, continuing my ability to count friends on just my ten fingers. It was during this time that I acknowledged my sexuality and came out to my family and friends (Thanks, Ellen!) When I turned 18, I signed the pink piece of paper that ended my obligations to public education, and moved to Madison. I was now in a position to get what I wanted to make myself happy.
I was chatting on Gay.com with local people in the summer of 2004, and they were talking about the summer recreational softball league in Madison. At the time I didn’t have a big interest in softball, but it was a chance to get out and be social and experience softball firsthand. It was at Olbrich Park where I had my first exposure to Madison Gay Softball, a league consisting of a few teams of men and women with varying skill and abilities. But they played as a team. And they were having fun, regardless of the score. And I found myself cheering whenever a player made it around to home base. I was having fun. And I was increasingly feeling an urge to be a part of it.
The next summer, I joined the league. I made many new friends, and was having a lot of fun. One week after a game, a group of us went to a local bar, where I met one of the new bartenders – Patrick Farabaugh. Little did I know, that meeting him would have a profound affect on my life. I later learned of his struggle to make it on his own and find his own happiness – and hockey was a big part of that. I had no idea of what was to come from our chance meeting that summer.
The next fall, Patrick founded the Madison Gay Hockey Association with a group of sixty or so players, most of whom identified as LGBT, and with varying abilities to skate or play hockey. I was asked to help with scorekeeping and music, and I obliged. Over the next 6 months, I watched a group of people do amazing things for themselves, their team, and the community. During the season, a handful of players attended open skate sessions at the Camp Randall Sports Center. I started going as well, and Patrick along with the other players helped coach me to be more confident, both on and off the ice, and gave me the push I needed at times. I remember being able to skate backwards for the first time, and stop without running into the boards… and then summer came around.
The summer of 2007, I joined the MGHA as a player and participated in the scrimmages at Madison Ice Arena. They held skills clinics for those who have never played hockey before, and we quickly learned things like keeping the stick on the ice and keeping your knees bent! Later that summer, a group of us had the opportunity to travel to Minneapolis to participate in a ‘border battle’ with the Twin Cities Gay Hockey Association. Although we weren’t exactly a match for their players, we had a great time and played our hearts out and made new friends.
This past fall is my first official season with the MGHA, on team Maroon… er… Mulan Rouge! I’ve noticed an amazing metamorphosis in everyone from both sides of the glass – watching players who never skated before transform in to hockey machines, gliding down the ice in a breakaway to make their first goal. They challenge themselves and cheer on their teammates, and put a huge emphasis on having fun. And I have Patrick to thank for introducing myself, and our community, to this life-changing sport.
I think that having experienced it first hand, I can say with certainty that hockey is the best sport to play. I wish I had the opportunity as a child to get involved with it, but it was worth the 25 year wait. And I’m looking forward to many more seasons with MGHA here in Madison and on the road. And maybe someday I’ll be someone’s inspiration to try hockey. It truly is, and has been, a life changing experience.