In hockey circles (and probably a fair number of other circles as well) Lake Placid holds a special place. It was there, at the 1980 Olympics, that the USA hockey team famously defeated the heavily favored Soviets in the game that would come to be known as the Miracle on Ice. I was only 7 in 1980, but people older than me (or just maybe more, you know, aware of things) remember this game not just for the hockey but for the Cold War symbolism it held.
With five seconds left in the game, when it became clear that the US team was going to prevail, sportscaster Al Michaels shouted, “Do you believe in miracles?!”
I know this for several reasons:
1. I have watched the movie Miracle on the team bus on the way to every single one of the four hockey tournaments Jack and I have gone on.
2. The folks at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid show the last few seconds of that game at every single opportunity available.
3. I run in hockey circles.
Now, this may not have a lot to do with Jack’s team, the Montgomery Cheetahs and the 34 players that drove north to play, or any of the other special hockey teams that gathered in Lake Placid last weekend for this CAN/AM tournament.
Or it just might.
As I wrote elsewhere, the Cheetahs’ head coach stood at the front of the team bus just a few minutes before we arrived back home late on Sunday night. He told us that he had known some of the players who had skated in that famous game. He told us that this tournament was the first special hockey tournament to play on that revered ice. He told us how he felt standing on that ice with the players he works so hard with every single week.
“As I stood on that ice,” he said, “I thought about these 34 miracles that we brought with us.”
Now, I’m not a miracle girl. I really don’t believe in miracles. I’m not one to call a disabled person who plays hockey a miracle. (I call them athletes—and, for the record, so does the coach.) But I understood exactly what he meant and the warm spirit with which he meant it.
I struggle after every single hockey trip to let you know what it is like at these tournaments. I mean, it’s like any other away game trip, right? Kids play games. Some have rough days. Some have incredible days. You swim in the hotel pool. You explore the town. It’s just a team trip, right?
But it’s not. Part of it is that some of these kids won’t get a lot of opportunities to travel for sports. Part of it is that these tournaments are a space where it is safe for these players to be themselves. Part of it is that these players, who have to work so hard in everyday life, are heroes on the ice. Part of it is that the players get to relax and form friendships, something that can be so hard for some young people with disabilities. Part of it is that these players put on a ton of gear and kick ass at a sport that you and I would probably suck at.
But it’s more than that.
I have never seen nor experienced such sportsmanship, respect, and camaraderie as I do at these tournaments. There is competition and there are fierce match-ups, but there are also games where on-ice rivals help each other and make sure the puck gets to players that don’t skate as fast or that don’t have the same skills. I’m not talking about the coaches. I’m talking about the players helping each other. I’m talking about inter-team congratulations, celebrations, and encouragement between players. I’m also talking about teams skating as hard as they can to win. There is that too. There is some fantastic hockey at these tournaments.
There is a spirit of being in it together—of understanding that if I add more water to your harbor, my ship rises too.
And there are smiles. The team coaches skated for hours and hours over the course of the tournament. I never saw any of them without a smile. The players’ faces are hidden behind face shields, but even a face shield can’t hide the smiles they have. My Jack, who struggled so mightily at his first tournament a couple of years ago, was calm and regulated for much of the trip. He isn’t yet totally aware of the shared harbor and the rising ships, but he is starting to see it. He was full of smiles this weekend.
I mean, there are tears too, but even that gets taken care of by the hockey family. Jack fell during one game and he cried because his head hurt. One of the coaches took him back to the bench where he lifted his face cage to wipe his tears, standing between Jack and the rink, physically using his body to shield my boy’s face from flying pucks and to make him feel better. And it worked. Your baby is my baby.
I could go on and on. I wish that all of you could attend a special hockey tournament. I wish all of you could experience what the players and families experience at these things. I wish my words were adequate, but they simply aren’t.
Special hockey. I’ve said it before, but special hockey is magic. I might not believe in miracles, but you’d better understand that I believe in magic.
In 1980, before Team USA took to the Olympic ice to skate against the Soviets, head coach Herb Brooks told his team: “You were born to be a hockey player…You were meant to be here…This moment is yours.”
I feel like we could have said this to every single player who was on the ice last weekend. They all had their time at the tournament. That moment was theirs.
THAT is what the Miracle on Ice has to do with special hockey.
I mentioned in my last post that some of the money raised from last year’s Cheetah-thon fundraiser went to help families pay for this tournament. The Cheetahs know how expensive it can be to raise a special needs child and they never want money to be a barrier to getting to experience trips like this one. We are holding another Cheetah-thon on May 11 from 5 to 7 pm. Team Stimey will be in the house. I would love it if any of you locals came to skate with us. I would be honored if you would consider donating to this year’s Cheetah-thon. Be sure to make a note when you donate if you are doing so in honor of Jack, so I can be sure to thank you.
I also want to thank some other people here. The Cheetahs are an entirely volunteer-run organization. The people who make sure the team keeps running all have jobs and families and other things they like to do with their time. They work extremely hard all year long to make Cheetah practices and tournaments happen. Many thanks to Cheetahs director Sean and tournament cruise director David for everything. Thank you to Coach Rob and to Head Coach David. You guys made magic last weekend.
Fine. Miracles too.
The day Jack and Jean went bobsledding. Like bosses.