The Magic of Special Hockey Reprise

Jack and I went to Jamestown, New York, for his hockey tournament almost two months ago now. I’ve wanted to write about it ever since, but, well, you know the kind of laziness problems I’ve been having. Because our annual Cheetah-thon is this weekend, this seemed like a good time to tell you about it. (You are officially invited to said Cheetah-thon and also supplied with this here link to our fundraising site in case you are so inclined to donate to this fantastic program.)

So after Jack took the year off from the Cheetahs last year and re-started this year, Alex has been taking him to practices. Prior to this year, it was almost always me who took him, but Alex really enjoyed hanging out with him the few times he took him so he volunteered to be Hockey Parent this year, which was great with me because I don’t like getting up at 6:30 am on Saturdays.

Alex was even going to take Jack on this hockey tournament trip but then *work something something work grumble work something* and I ended up going with Jack instead. At first I was a little annoyed because I LIKE TO STAY INSIDE MY HOUSE AND NOT GO OUTSIDE OR CHANGE MY SCHEDULE OR INTERACT WITH OTHER PEOPLE, but I am so happy and lucky that I got to go because it turns out that The Magic of Special Hockey is still real and happening and wonderful and also because I wouldn’t have been able to do as much day drinking had I stayed home and Alex had gone on the tournament.

These tournaments do involve, like, a billion-hour bus trip, which isn’t the greatest, although we do get to watch hockey mainstay movie Miracle on the bus DVD player every time. Jack played video games with his friend for about a half hour and then started feeling sick. After the Bus Barforama™ from the tournament two years ago, neither he nor I wanted to experience that again, so he sat next to me and stared straight ahead for the next six hours.

Two photos. 1. Jack playing a DS. His index finger is straight up in the air 2. Jack staring straight ahead.

Jack’s two positions on the bus. Also, having that finger straight up seems to be an important part of playing DS for the kid.

This, of course, left Jack totally free to tell me all about all the video games he played as well as to harass others, like when one of the hockey dads stopped to talk to me and Jack was all, “Are you flirting with her?” (he wasn’t) followed with an emphatic, “SHE’S MARRIED.” Classic Jack.

Incidentally and ironically, Quinn was hit in the head by a hockey puck at school that day.

We arrived in Jamestown, checked into our hotel, and Jack finally got to play all the DS that I’d promised he could play on the bus.

Jack on a hotel bed playing DS.

Me: Jack, do you want to swim/eat/shower/hang out with a friend?
Jack: NO.

There were three eating establishments within a sightline of the hotel: a Bob Evans, a McDonald’s, and a gas station. (Yes, gas stations count as eating establishments.) That night a big group of us went to Bob Evans and then the kiddos went swimming and then we went to bed.

The next day, Friday, Jack didn’t have a game until 2:45, so we went to McDonald’s for breakfast, then went back to the room where he did the same thing as in that photo up there and I read for a while and took a nap and then we ate lunch at McDonald’s and then finally got on the bus to go to the ice rink.

Photo of Jack in his game jersey and pads and me next to him.

Traditional pre-game selfie.

It is here that I need to tell you about Jack’s new philosophy about playing hockey. A few months ago, one of Jack’s teachers gave the class an assignment to do something outside of their comfort zone over the weekend. Because he had a hockey game that weekend, he decided that the thing he would do would be to actually put effort into playing the game. Things turned out well for him and instead of lying on the ice and taking leisurely laps around the rink, he worked hard, scored a goal, made an assist, and generally rocked the casbah.

After such a good experience, he evidently decided that this is now his new comfort zone behavior for hockey games. I hadn’t been at that first game where he put in effort so I was really excited to see him work it here. And work it he did. He did such a great job. I was super impressed.

We had a couple of hours before the next game, so some of the players hung out at a table in the rink restaurant and some of the parents sat at an adjacent table and commenced to drinking, what with our not having to drive anywhere AND it being St. Patrick’s Day and all. Thus we waited out the time until the next game at which Jack also expended good effort. He is the greatest.

Because I am not the greatest, I don’t remember at which game that first day that he scored his goal, but he did and it was AWESOME. He’s come a long way. And not just in goal scoring. He chases the puck, he passes the puck, he is generally just an effort-expending hockey player. He is all kinds of cool.

After the game, not wanting to return to McDonald’s for a third time in the same day, another mom and I wandered around unsuccessfully looking for a place to eat until we ran into a couple of dads who were headed to a pizza place. We became taggers on and were rewarded with delicious dinner, which we consumed just in time to make the bus back to the hotel.

It was a really happy day for both Jack and I and it made me feel a little sad for Alex that he wasn’t able to experience it. I’ve always been the one to take Jack on his hockey tournaments, so he’s always missed out. But at the same time as I was feeling a little sad for Alex, I was feeling very happy for myself and full of satisfied emotions because I was so lucky to be able to spend this time with Jack.

Saturday morning we had a game at 8 am, so we had to get up and moving early.

Jack holding a cup up to his face. There is a picture of a mustache on the cup.

This is Jack waiting for the bus to the rink. He mustache you a question.

Because Jack is awesome, he scored two goals and continued to be awesome at that morning game. I insert these next photos so you know that going to a hockey tournament actually includes ice skating and playing hockey.

Jack in the locker room in all his gear.

“Stay out of the comfort zone, Jack…stay out of the comfort zone.”

Jack skating mid-game

Jack being a hockey player.

Jack at the center of the rink at the face off.

Jack loves doing the face-off and generally is kind of pushy about taking his spot there.

I don’t have a lot of memory of what happened between games. That is the problem with writing a blog post two months after the event. Did we go back to the hotel? Maybe. Did I feed Jack lunch at the rink? WAIT A MINUTE! I remember! We went back to the hotel where I bought Jack doughnuts and I think I took him swimming but there was no one else down there so he was lonely and we went back to the room before we went back to Bob Evans for lunch and I ate lemon pie for dessert. I never forget lemon pie.

Jack had his last game that afternoon. After steadfastly refusing to be a captain all weekend (I think he thought it might involve extra work or motivational speaking or something), Jack finally agreed to step up and wear the “C” that made him Captain Jack for 45 minutes.

Jack in the locker room all geared up looking at his coach who is bending down to talk to him.

Here is the head coach giving Jack a pep talk about being captain.

There is something about sitting in the stands with other special hockey parents watching your athlete play and seeing the coaches grin and encourage all of the players. It is really hard to explain, but there is something amazing there. I felt it so strongly that weekend watching all those terrific kids and young adults play.

Plus everyone got a medal because they are awesome.

Jack wearing his medal.

Triumphant. And tired.

From there, it was back to the hotel for more swimming in a pool that soon roiled with children, followed by a pizza party. You can’t get better than that. Or can you? What if your mom is half drunk and decides you need a late-night snack walk to the gas station where she will buy you a king size Big Kat? That’s even better.

Selfie of us on our walk to the gas station.

Because candy and soda right before bed is kind of a thing that Team Stimey excels at.

One of the teams had a game Sunday morning so Jack got to watch funny videos of dogs and cats in the room and then with his teammates in the lobby of the hotel. Then he sat on a bus for six and a half hours staring straight ahead again.

And that was Jack’s triumphant return to tournament hockey. We really could not have had more fun. There was a really fun group of parents there for me and so many nice players for Jack to hang out with, including his best friend, which is always a bonus.

Thank you so much to the parents who organized this trip. We appreciate your work so much. You made the weekend both fun and magical for us—that’s not easy to pull off. And to the coaches, you skate every game for three Cheetah squads and you wear genuine smiles throughout every one. You are my heroes. Thank you.

If, after reading, you (yes, you) would like to support the team, please head over to https://www.crowdrise.com/annual-cheetah-thon where you can make a donation. Jack and the rest of the Cheetahs would be so grateful. This team has made such a difference in our lives and I know we’re not the only family who feels this way. This is a really unique and incredible team and we appreciate so much your emotional and financial support.

Team Stimey Classic

Well, friends, the sickness I skated around the edge of for the past two weeks finally got me. I have a cold. It’s kind of a perfect time for me to be sick, so, yay, I guess, but I’m going to bed early, so my Pittsburgh race report is going to have to wait. In lieu of that however, I will tell you about the Cheetah-thon.

Remember a few years ago when every time Team Stimey left the house, we had some sort of disaster? Well, this year’s Cheetah-thon was kind of a throwback to the good ol’ days.

First of all, I would like to state that the event was fantastic. The organizers did an amazing job. It was really nice to see everyone. The Cheetahs raised a lot of money. (And thank you so much to my mom for her donation. You are awesome.)

All that said, the Cheetah-thon did not go as planned for Team Stimey. To begin with, Quinn was adamantly against attending, so that was fun. (<—sarcasm) Then, disastrously, when we got there, I got Jack rental figure skates instead of rental hockey skates.

To make a long, really sad story short, the toe picks took Jack out. Twice.

The first fall took out his major joints and after he pulled it together and went back out, his second fall left him with a tiny but painful cut on the middle finger of his right hand. (Jack: “How am I going to show disrespect now?”)

That’s when it occurred to me that he was wearing the wrong type of skates. Sadly, he was Done with a capital “d.”

We did get to catch up with some of his coaches and friends though, so it wasn’t all bad.

Selfie of Jack and I smiling. Sam is hiding behind a pretzel behind us.

Joy between falls.

Quinn, on the other hand, was having the time of his life.

See, while I was trying to stem the flow of tears, Alex and Quinn had been winning everything the Cheetah-thon raffle had to offer. Suffice it to say, Quinn will never argue against attending a Cheetah-thon ever again.

Photo of Quinn holding a huge basket of Girl Scout cookies.

Things turned around for him once he won the GIANT BASKET OF COOKIES.

Even though this much-looked-forward-to event didn’t go quite as hoped, we did walk out of there with a basket of wine that we won in the raffle, so, you know, silver linings.

Much as with our past outings that didn’t go as planned though, Team Stimey doesn’t give up. We’ll be back to the Cheetah-thon next year and maybe we’ll even hit an open skate (in HOCKEY skates this time) before then.

Cheetah-thons Aren’t Just For Cheetahs!

The Montgomery Cheetahs logo

Remember the Cheetahs? Remember how Jack played on the team for years? Remember the magic of special hockey? Remember how your baby is my baby?

Jack didn’t play for the Cheetahs this year, but we still have a deep love for them and want to support them. Their big annual fundraising event is this Saturday and I would like you to take part.

First, I would like to invite you to skate with the Cheetahs at their Cheetah-thon this Saturday from 6:15 to 8:15 pm at the Rockville Ice Arena. Team Stimey will be there and we’d love to see you. Even those who don’t have a connection to the Cheetahs are welcome. Your family can skate for free—don’t forget to bring a helmet! (Bike helmets are good if you don’t have a hockey helmet.)

There are raffles with great prizes and you are encouraged but not required to donate when you are there. It is all around a really fun event. I hope if you can come that you will. It’s all kinds of fun.

But! If you can’t come to the actual Cheetah-thon, you can donate online like I did. I know the people who run this organization and they are really good people working hard solely for the benefit of the athletes on the team.

I hope to see you at the Cheetah-thon!

*****

p.s. My half marathon was GREAT! Trust me, you’ll hear lots more about it later this week.

Once a Cheetah, Always a Cheetah

Photo of a hockey helmet on top of a hockey bag. There is masking tape on the helmet with the name "Jack" written on it.I had to send a really sad email today. Jack has decided to take a break from hockey this year. After much (much) inner-family discussion on the topic, it was time to tell his coaches.

They were wonderful. Once a Cheetah, always a Cheetah, one said. Jack has been a central part of the Cheetahs, another said.

Jack is welcome back anytime, both of them declared.

I am going to miss that team, I tell you. I’m hoping that Jack will change his mind and want to go back next year or the year after. I told him about what his coaches had said and I swear I saw his eyes get a little watery. When I asked him if he might want to go back in a year or two, he said he might and he looked happy at the thought.

I hope he does. After Jack’s diagnosis, the Cheetahs were our first real-life safe space among other families who understood us. The kindness of the coaches, the support of the other parents, and the leadership of Jack’s older teammates meant the world to us at a time when we needed it so very badly.

Those of you who have been here for a while know how much the Cheetahs mean to us. The tournament trips Jack and I took with the team were like nothing else I’ve experienced. The friends I’ve made rink-side and in the locker rooms are very dear to me. Watching Jack connect with his coaches and teammates and loving to skate has been priceless.

No matter what happens in the future, I am so grateful for this team and all the people involved in it—athletes, coaches, parents, mentors, everyone. Thank you. We love you.

Loving the Cheetah Nation

Every year I kinda forget how much Jack loves the Cheetah-thon. Part of it is that he just loves skating without having to wear all of his gear or being asked to do drills. But the thing I am reminded of, year after year, is how much Jack loves his coaches.

Yeah, he spends a lot of his time at the Cheetah-thon literally skating circles around his brothers, but he also makes sure to spend time skating and hanging out with his coaches, often hand-in-hand.

Jack skating holding hands with his coach.This year, Jack headed out on the ice while I was doing other stuff. When I finally got rinkside and spotted Jack, he was in the middle of the ice with three of his coaches doing a little dance.

“It’s really hard to not love that kid,” one of them told me later.

(I agree.)

Photo of Jack after he artfully slid to a stop on one knee on the ice. He has one hand on his hip and the other above his head in a peace sign.Sam and Quinn did less on-ice boogie dancing, but they had fun too.

Photo of Sam and Quinn clinging to the side of the rink. Quinn's back is to the camera.Even Quinn is warming up to his once yearly skating adventure. You might not be able to see it in this photo, but he’s smiling and joyful here.

Photo I took of Quinn from outside the rink. He's trying to duck down to hide from the camera.

I really want to thank all of you who donated to the Cheetah-thon. This truly is an amazing team made up of incredible athletes and supporters. Thank you to Sarah, Kelly, Barbara, and Grandma for donating. If you donated and I missed you, please let me know because I would like to know and be able to thank you. It is really meaningful to my family that you contribute to the Cheetahs in Jack’s honor. I also want to thank Heather and her family for coming to the Cheetah-thon.

Photo of Jack, just after he's skated away from one of his coaches.We’re going to enjoy our summer without early-morning Saturday practices, but come fall, Jack will be back on the ice.

Thank you.

Thank You, Cheetah Extended Family!

Thank you to those of you who donated to Jack’s hockey team, the Montgomery Cheetahs in Jack’s honor.

Jack wearing a black jacket that says "Jackson 42" on it.

Jack says thank you. Or something snarkily charming.

Thank you to Stacy and to Laura and to Heather & family and to Lyda & family and to Nana & Grandpa Richard. We are so very grateful to each of you.

The Cheetah-thon is May 2 from 5-7 pm at Rockville Ice Arena. We’ll be there and we’d love to see any of you there. Jack will be the one wearing shin guards and a huge smile.

There’s still time to donate as well. Put a shout-out to Jack in the comments on the donation site if you do, so I can be sure to thank you!

The Cheetah Family

I have been extremely remiss.

The year’s big fundraiser for Jack’s hockey team, the 2015 Cheetah-thon is coming up in two weeks and I haven’t written anything about it. In fact, I don’t know that I’ve written anything about the Cheetahs all year.

That, however, doesn’t mean we don’t still love our Cheetah Nation. ‘Cause we do.

Photo of Jack wearing a black jacket with the Montgomery Cheetahs logo on the back.

Unrelated: Look at his hair. I wish he hadn’t wanted to cut it. Oh, I miss it sooo much.

I’ve been a little checked out from the team this year. It used to always be me who took Jack to practice on Saturdays, but Alex has taken him at least half the time this season. We also didn’t go on the tournament trip for the first time since Jack joined the team. There’s been a lot of Cheetahs hockey without my participation over the past few months.

Jack has had a few really rough practices this year, mostly because he doesn’t always want to do the drills or stay on the ice for the whole practice. (And once because he just flat-out got pissed at another kid and wanted to brawl, hockey-style—that was a hard week.) He gets tired, he says, and it’s cold.

Even so, when I ask Jack if he still wants to be a Cheetah, he always says yes. We’ve talked about some of the things that are hard for him when he’s skating and we’ve been flexible in letting him take a week off here or there when he’s needed it.

Because the thing is, when he’s into it, when he’s happy to be with his team, the magic of special hockey appears.

Photo of Jack and another player in red jerseys skating across the ice.

I stole this photo from the Montgomery Cheetahs Facebook page. I love it.

Photo of Jack sliding to the ice during practice. He's smiling.

Jack often enjoys the drills where the entire point is to fall spectacularly. I love that grin.

Profile of Jack in his hockey helmet.

Taking a break during practice.

Photo of Jack from the back, skating away from the camera.

One thing Jack almost always enjoys is simply skating. It’s second nature to him now.

Jack in full gear on the opposite side of the plexiglass from me. His hands and helmet are pressed up against the glass.

Jack has also been known to ham it up a little during practice.

Jack in a red jersey and his buddy in a blue jersey. They are on the opposite side of the rink, leaning against the side of the rink and looking totally relaxed.

Jack hanging with one of his two best friends, who is also on the team. (Obviously, I suppose.) They’re working hard. Can’t you tell?

Jack is resourceful. He’s always finding things to keep him entertained. There was one practice where I saw him skate over to the rink door and I thought he wanted to get off the ice. By the time I made my way over to see what was up, he was busy entertaining a group of parents by finding ways to ask for their drinks through the plexiglass.

Photo of Jack on the other side of the plexiglass. He's breathed on the glass to make a fog and has written the word "coffee" in it.

I was all, “If you caffeinate that kid, so help me God…”

This is one of the things I really enjoy about Jack. He looooves entertaining people. He is such a goofball.

And every once in a while, he grabs the camera and I get to see parts of the hockey experience from his point of view.

Photo of me sitting on the ground in a locker room. I'm untying his skate.

One day he will be able to tie his own skates and life will be sooooo good.

The Montgomery Cheetahs have given Jack so much.

He’s learned to do something that’s pretty hard and that a lot of kids his age can’t do. He has access to a large disability community. He gets good exercise and learns about teamwork.

More than that though, he is unconditionally accepted. Yes, he is asked to do things and demands are put on him, but if he can’t do it, if the drills or following directions or doing anything other than lying the ice is just not in the cards that day, it’s okay. He isn’t forced to perform. The coaches and I encourage him and try to get him excited, but if the answer is no, the answer is no. And even better, he’s not made to feel bad about it.

For kids like Jack who are pushed so hard so often to do things that are extremely difficult for them, it is nice when they have a place they can chill out and just belong.

This is never more evident than when the Cheetah Nation gets together off of the ice. The team held its yearly party last weekend and, as always, it was a joy to behold. There was food and booze and a DJ. Players of all ages and their parents danced or jumped or ran in circles or shared video games or did whatever made them happy.

Photo of chairs stacked against a wall. Jack is laying across a bunch of them.

Like hanging out on piles of chairs.

That’s what I love about the Cheetahs. No one is pressured to be anyone or anything other than who they are.

With the Cheetahs, Jack is accepted for being exactly who he is.

Photo of Jack in a large room, with tables and people behind him. He has a huge grin on his face.

Anything that makes Jack this happy makes me that happy.

If you are able, please consider donating to the Montgomery Cheetahs on their Cheetah-thon fundraiser page. It takes a lot of money to keep a team like this going. They work really hard to keep player costs to a minimum, so the team depends heavily on funds raised at the Cheetah-thon. If you donate in Jack’s honor, make a note of it during the donation process so I can be sure to thank you.

Whether you can donate or not, thanks for always being so supportive when I talk about Jack and the Cheetahs. It really is a fantastic community. In fact, it is far less of a Cheetah Nation and far more of a Cheetah Family.