Grayson Schultz – 2019-2020 Essay

“I have a world of support within arm’s reach.”

2019 was a weird year for me. After nearly five years of marriage and nearly twelve years together, my husband asked for a divorce. It was good timing at least, as I’d just started to work again after being off of full-time work for nearly three years due to health issues. I’d been seeing multiple physical therapists for three years in order to be able to walk safely.

Earlier in the year, I had been diagnosed with a hypermobility syndrome. Truth be told, that’s not the first diagnosis I’ve picked up. The growing laundry list of afflictions in my life has made it hard to move, see, breathe, and think at different times. I grew up with Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, something that can be fatal as it attacks organs and joints alike. I got sick when I was five and it’s really the only life I’ve known. I was never an athlete or honestly good at balancing. Honestly, I’d fall standing up many days. 

That brings me back to 2019. In the middle of dealing with all of this upheaval, I leaned hard on the connections I made via social media. One of the people who got me interested in hockey – specifically, the person who spurred me to go to a 2014 Women’s Badgers NCAA tournament game – shared the NHL video made about the MGHA. I ruminated on how cool it would be to learn how to play hockey like Cole, Rigsby, Pankowski, Clark, Nurse, and Roque. I let the idea pass towards the back of my mind, focusing on the important things like finding my own apartment, etc. I thought that idea would let me be.

Boy, was I wrong! The notion of playing hockey kept rattling around my brain. Within a few weeks, I brought up the idea with my physical therapist who overwhelmingly agreed I was ready for that type of physical activity. She gave me a ton of exercises to work on that were tailored to becoming a better skater. Once I signed up, I definitely started to think about all the ridiculousness I had gotten myself into. Anyone who knows me knows I’m not the epitome of grace.

My first day on the ice was… hard. I was able to be upright for maybe a total of five minutes out of an hour. My mentor and the other coaches hung out with and encouraged me to keep going. At the end of the practice, I walked to my car incredibly sore and sweaty. For the first time in my life, though, I did something sporty. I didn’t do it well or for most of the allotted time, but I did it.

I couldn’t wait to get back out on the ice next week!

At my second practice, I definitely got injured. I fell in a back-leaning butterfly and tore part of my meniscus. For the first time in my life, I asked at urgent care if I could play the next week. The answer was a resounding no, but I was able to start strength training again after a few days. 

Despite being off the ice for just a week, I had numerous people reach out and check on me. When I came back, I was greeted warmly by the other newbies and coaches alike. The support propelled me to push myself harder, both on and off the ice. 

I decided to take up the position of goalie, something I’d always admired but was sure I would suck at. Instead, my hypermobility helped me excel. I went from being someone who never did a sport to embracing one of the most difficult positions in one of the most ridiculous sports out there. It took a while to get the hang of getting all those pads on, but I know there’s nowhere else I’d rather be than squatting in goal behind my team. 

To be a part of a team and have people to rely on at all feels weird. When I was growing up, I didn’t really have friends. As a matter of fact, I was heavily isolated in an abusive family. Closeness isn’t something I’ve ever had, at least not in a healthy way. Since joining the league, I began to allow myself to connect with others instead of putting up walls. It became easy to share all the difficulties I was going through with my health, relationships, and life in general.

The amount of growth I’ve been able to go through physically, emotionally, and mentally by joining the league is something I can’t measure. My sister says that I sound happier than I ever have, and she’s not wrong.

When I started using a different name and different set of pronouns, my friends and teammates didn’t even flinch. When I started testosterone, my trans brothers checked in on me to see how I was doing and gave me the 411 on what to expect. When my disabilities affect my ability to play, I get encouraging comments instead of ones filled with ableism or frustration. Hell, a few people have emergency medical information for me in case something goes wrong.

As I write this, I’m preparing to go to divorce court with my ex-husband. I can’t lie and say that I’m not nervous – I absolutely am. I know it’s going to be a rough day and that it’ll open up healed wounds. Thankfully, I have a lot of support within the MGHA. From advice from divorced players to check-ins from teammates, I have a world of support within arm’s reach.

When someone asks me what the MGHA means to me, it’s hard to sum up in a short sentence. It means many things – progress, a workout, flipping off my disabilities… I think the most important pieces for me, though, are support and acceptance.