Martha Hansen – 2019-2020 Essay

“My feelings of indecision evaporated: I knew that I wanted to be part of this community again and that I could be.”

I first heard about MGHA in 2016 while preparing to move back to Madison, my home town, after almost 40 years away. My old friend Susan told me she had a lesbian co-worker who played in Madison’s gay hockey league and maybe I could join too. We had a good laugh about that, given that I was: a) 56 years old; b) had never participated in any organized sport; and c) had spent the majority of my adult life avoiding any and all physical activity. And HOCKEY of all things — come on! Everyone knows it’s a rough, difficult, and expensive sport, not to mention a total boyzone: I had vivid memories from my youth of being at the neighborhood outdoor ice skating rink wearing the white figure skates that were de rigueur for girls in those days and watching the boys play hockey on the other side of the boards, a place where I knew I would be unwelcome if it had ever even occurred to me to try to join in, which it didn’t.

So yeah, Susan and I chuckled and moved on, but for some reason, as ridiculous as it seemed, the MGHA stuck in my mind. So I decided to check out the web site, and when I did, I was immediately impressed with and moved by the MGHA’s commitment to tolerance and inclusion and the fact that it was truly open to all: LGBTQIA and straight people; folks who identified as male, female, and nonbinary; and skaters and non-skaters alike. The cost, while not insignificant, was manageable, with financial assistance available to those in need of it, and it was a rec league, so there was no concern about body-checking or any kind of violence.

I was amazed to find out that the MGHA would accept people who didn’t even know how to ice skate, much less play hockey, promising to teach anyone who wanted to learn. Remembering my time spent goofing around on the ice rink as a kid, I assured myself that I most certainly knew how to skate! (LOL, more on that later.) In reading through the web site with its emphasis on inclusion of marginalized folks and people who’d been made to feel unwelcome in more traditional sports settings, I realized that in spite of my general societal privilege, I did in fact fall into a marginalized group in terms of hockey: as a girl growing up in the pre-Title IX days, it had never occurred to me that it was a world I could enter.

As lucky as I am to have friends and family in the Madison area, there’s still that thing about being around your own tribe. I had left behind a wonderful group of gay and lesbian friends in Albuquerque, and I knew I would need that in Madison too, especially being newly single again. Having left Madison so long ago, before I identified as a lesbian, I had no idea where to start. But here — so very unexpectedly — was the MGHA. True, I was not an athlete and had exactly zero interest in becoming one, but I had quit my job and moved cross-country to start a new life in the aftermath of my mother’s death and my own divorce, so hell — why not hockey? I got in touch via email and was assured by Randi that I was not too old to give it a shot, and after signing up I was assigned a mentor who was equally encouraging. Susan and her hockey-playing family helped me buy the gear, and I was set to go. The orientation session was as impressive as the web site had been, with its emphasis on inclusion, inclusion, tolerance, and inclusion, accompanied by safety, safety, fun, and safety.

I went to the beginner clinics and found that ice skating was much harder than I remembered (which shouldn’t have been a surprise, given my 40-year hiatus), but also found that no one batted an eye at my advanced age or low skill level: I was treated just like everyone else. Inspired by others who had begun skating as adults and rapidly achieved impressive proficiency, I started going to open skate sessions at the Shell in an effort to improve. It was there, just days before the first game of the season, that I fell and broke my wrist. Although deeply embarrassed, I forced myself to show my face again to my new teammates and other MGHA folks, all of whom reacted with kindness and commiseration. I was offered an open door to return whenever I chose and was jovially assured by several MGHA-ers that they had played hockey with injuries and even in casts and had been fine. Still, sitting out the remainder of the season seemed the sensible thing to do, and I did.

I thought long and hard over spring/summer 2017 about whether I could or should give hockey another try. With the encouragement of Susan (who had decided to join MGHA with me in 2016 and had played the whole season and had a blast), I signed up again. Now age 57, I was feeling like the world’s oldest rookie, but as I began the preseason beginner clinics for the second time, I found myself welcomed back into the league with open arms. I played for Team Red, aka Redrum, and had a fine time, being treated with great patience and kindness by some seriously good hockey players. As before, I was determined to improve my skating and hockey skills, so I also joined a women’s beginner team, through which I met some more great people and got some excellent coaching and even scored a goal! It was a fun season, but playing for two teams was a little more than I’d bargained for, and I ended up deciding to sit out the 2018-19 season.

In the summer of 2019, I was feeling indecisive about returning to the MGHA, but, having just turned 59 (!), I figured that if I ever planned to attempt hockey again, now was the time, so I contacted the recruiting team about reactivating my membership. I almost immediately heard from two (2!) of my Redrum teammates saying how happy they’d be to see me come back! My feelings of indecision evaporated: I knew that I wanted to be part of this community again and that I could be.

Now, with the 2019-20 season coming to a close, here I am, with another full season under my belt, new friends made, much fun had, and even a goal scored!

I won’t lie — I still struggle with self-consciousness about my age and anxiety about my abilities. But it’s important to note that these difficulties are entirely self-imposed: Every MGHA member I’ve ever interacted with, no matter their age or skill level, has been friendly and kind and welcoming. No one has ever asked me, as I have frequently asked myself, what in the world are you doing trying to learn hockey at your age? So I’m here to tell you that when the MGHA says it, they really mean it: Hockey is for everyone — even a rookie who’s practically retirement age. Thanks, MGHA, for welcoming me into the world of hockey as well as home to my community.