I grew up in Texas, a place where football is famously king. Sports in my mind were the height of machismo culture: bigger and stronger meant better, “you got to hit somebody,” and athleticism and hand-eye coordination were essential. The idea of sports was always off-putting to the stereotypical science nerd, choir boy, and boy scout. When my circle of gay friends and I were asked about sports, the conversation usually went something like this
“So, what did you think of the Lakers last night?” ”I don’t know. I heard they beat the Yankees in the Super Bowl, but I don’t really follow soccer, so I could be wrong.” A few years later when I made it to graduate school in chemistry, still singing, and enjoying yoga when I could attend, I had someone propose I take up ice hockey. The idea was laughable. Looking back, I still laugh not only because a person like me loves hockey but also because the idea that anything else would happen was silly.
To be fair, I had reason to believe joining an ice hockey league was a foolish idea for me. It is the sport with the highest rate of concussions, probably partially because it is one of the only sports where fighting is latently encouraged. I joined the MGHA because a friend convinced me to join. The first thing I was told and reminded was that MGHA was a no-check league and that having fun and taking care of one another was always the first priority. Was I terrible at the start? They put a gay Texan on ice skates and gave him a stick. Of course, comedic folly ensued. The only way I knew how to stop was running into a wall. However, all I was given was encouragement and ways to improve. The encouragement was so strong and my desire to improve for myself and my team so great that I jumped into extra practice by myself or in groups over lunch breaks and weekends.
By the time I started with the MGHA, work as a graduate student including large amounts of travel, had removed my strong sense of self and left me with no place that felt like home. Within a couple weeks, I was showing up hours early to games. Hartmeyer became my second home because I was always welcomed and nurtured as family. Hockey was my means of self-improvement and where I could encourage and be encouraged by others. By the end of the season, my team captains declared me most improved. They said it with pride in their eyes.
Do I still fall? Yes, I still fall almost every game chasing a puck like a dog after a car. I laugh every time I do. I know it is right to be happy in that moment for my team and I will make that into a learning experience too. I laugh because it gives me the boisterous energy to get back up just as MGHA gives me the boisterous energy to be myself on and off the ice.