This spring break we whisked the kids away for a short trip that, only after we’d lived it for a day or two, we realized seemed to have a water theme. By that I mean, the rain, the ice, and the hotel swimming pool.
My nephew was just four or five years old the first time he put on hockey gear. He was in his living room and the bag containing the gear could have contained the boy himself three times over.
My nephew cried and cried after he was all strapped up and sufficiently ‘protected’. He was a tiny boy for his age even back then and the equipment — the smallest my sister could find — consumed him. He could barely move without falling over and that was without skates and a helmet.
For a less determined child, it could have spelled the end of his hockey career before it even began. But it didn’t. He was too into playing knee hockey with mini sticks and watching the Canucks on TV by then.
He was going to be a hockey player. He knew it in his heart. Just as soon as he learned to walk in his gear, and then maybe learn to skate too, and hopefully grow a little bit.
Nobody really dared to bring up the fact that hockey is — or at least used to be — a game for giant bruisers and our family doesn’t possess a very strong height gene. The odds were that he’d be short like the rest of us.
Like I said though, for a less determined child, that might have been the end of it. Not for my nephew.
Anyway, our trip this spring break was to watch that nephew, now nearly 17 years old, compete in his first ever provincial hockey tournament. His team had earned the right to attend a provincial tournament two years ago, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic.
So, in his second-to-last season ever of minor hockey, after years and years of playing and loving the game without making it to the season-ending Big Show, my nephew was finally playing in the provincials and there was no way we were going to miss it.
The tournament was in Campbell River and of course an hour after our arrival, it started to rain and pretty much didn’t stop until we began our drive home. We had intended to play at the beach and to visit Elk Falls in between watching hockey games but all that was thrown out the window thanks to the rain.
Instead, we divided our time pretty evenly between the rink and the hotel’s tiny swimming pool.
This was the first hotel my kids had ever been to with a functioning pool. It is amazing how much fun can be had by two children (and their parents) in a 20-foot by 40-foot hole full of chemical water. Add a purple beach ball and it was pure heaven for my kindergartner and second grader.
Making things even better (for them, not their parents) was that the pool was pretty chilly so aside from one other parent with young kids who also got sucked in to swimming a lot, we had it all to ourselves. Six times. In three days we swam six times. SIX! I apologize to the hotel for the number the towels we used.
Something happened, though, in that tiny indoor pool that I never in a million years would have predicted.
My typically indifferent son decided he was going to become a swimmer.
The pandemic derailed our swim lessons and while we hadn’t forgotten how much he loves the water, we had never really witnessed before the determination he demonstrated in wanting to learn how to swim properly. He pushed himself to get from one side of the pool to the other and if he came up short, he tried again. And again. And again. Over and over he pushed. We weren’t allowed to help, he was going to do it on his own. I’ve never seen him that determined with a sport before. Perhaps he’s never loved a sport as much as he loves swimming though.
It reminded me of his big hockey-playing cousin.
My nephew played five games in four days — the last of which was the gold medal game — a thriller against a team they’d played often all season, but had never beaten. The contest went into double overtime and when all was said and done, my nephew was a champion. He’s got the medal, the hat and the provincial championship banner to prove it. All because he didn’t give up after being eaten alive by his shoulder pads and shin guards that day in his living room more than a decade ago.
Still diminutive, he’s pushed hard and found success. I couldn’t ask for a better role model for my kids.
Our short trek to Campbell River in the rain proved successful on two fronts, one of my favourite boys ended a long hockey quest with a provincial gold medal and the other may have just started out on his quest to become a true swimmer.
They’re two of the smallest guys I know for their ages, but I’m certain that they’ve got the two biggest hearts.