Tuesday, May 1, 2012

An Ode to SMS Hockey

Growing up I was never much of an athlete. For a short time I was on a swim team. I eventually quit that team after spending two summers never winning any real ribbons but only the dreaded “participatory” ribbon. My younger sister was also on the same swim team and her room was filled with blue, red and yellow ribbons. My room only had orange thank-you-for-trying ribbons. Outside of these two years on the swim team, I did nothing else athletic. In high school, I came straight home, watched “General Hospital” and read books (but never the ones assigned in English class). Basically, I have always been a true couch potato.

Jeff, on the other hand, was always an athlete. He played several sports through high school and into college. Apparently, our three boys take after him. They are all handsome and athletic. (I still claim they get their smarts from me, though.) Since our oldest son, Garren, started t-ball in kindergarten our family has been non-stop sports. The boys all have slightly varied interests, but they all (including Jeff) unanimously agree that hockey is their favorite!

When Garren was in first grade he asked if he could start skating and learn to play hockey. Jeff was thrilled. Jeff had spent his youth in hockey rinks. I, on the other hand, was not so thrilled. As I already explained, I had spent my youth on the couch. All I knew about hockey I had learned from television. And what I had learned from television was that hockey parents were scary people. All the fathers were getting into fights, and all the mothers looked like they wanted to join in. Basically, I thought all hockey families were thugs. But there was an obvious flaw in my logic; Jeff had played hockey, and I had not married a thug. So I was convinced to let Garren give hockey a try. Since we made that decision seven years ago, we have spent countless hours in hockey rinks. Once Cole and Ben were old enough they followed Garren, and we had all three boys on skates. My boys are their happiest when they are in a rink, either playing a game, practicing, or just running around with their friends.

When Ben was diagnosed and we were still at the hospital in our Diabetes 101 training, one of the first things we worried about was how we were going to be able to get Ben back in his skates and on the rink. We understood so much was going to be taken away from Ben. But we also understood that one of those things could not be hockey. We needed to get him back with his teammates playing the game he loved.

Again, Jeff and I needed a plan. How were we going to keep Ben’s glucose levels from crashing during practices and games? When we left Children’s Hospital we were given cheat sheet with very basic guidelines on how to manage exercise. (After 30 minutes of exercise Ben will need 15 additional carbs depending on what his starting glucose level is.) Over the past two years we have learned to appreciate the beauty and mystery of the human body. And we have come to learn that this was in no way a complete plan. But it was enough of a plan to get us started. So with this exercise cheat sheet, Ben’s test kit and several juice boxes we decided to give hockey practice a try. We thought we had everything we needed, but what we really needed was support and encouragement. And we got that and more from our town hockey league, Sudbury Maynard and Stow (SMS) Hockey.

In 2009, Ben was playing on the Mite D team. His coach was Coach H, who also had a son on the team. Coach H immediately, and without hesitation, wanted to learn everything he needed to know to help Ben return to the team. The “without hesitation” piece was the most critical for us. Whenever I need to leave Ben in someone else’s care, you have to first explain his condition and instruct what needs to be done in an emergency.

This conversation usually starts with, “Ben has Type 1 Diabetes.”

This statement is usually followed with “Oh, my grandmother has diabetes.”

I follow with, “She likely has Type 2 Diabetes. Ben has Type 1, which is different.” I then continue with, “With Type 1 your pancreas no longer functions and you become insulin dependent ... ”

At this point, about half the time, I have now lost their attention and I will notice their eyes start to glaze over. To be clear, I am not judging anyone. Before Ben was diagnosed, I did not understand what Type 1 was. And I am certain my eyes would have glazed over too.

But if I am lucky enough to have not lost my audience, I follow up with “If Ben’s blood sugar level goes too low, anything below 70, we need to immediately give him some fast acting carbs, like sugar. It is important to do this quickly to avoid hypoglycemia and other bad things from happening ...”

Now at this point, about half the time, I will notice shock in their face. If they seem at all squeamish or uncomfortable I will decide not to leave Ben. But if I am lucky enough to have made it this far in the conversation, I will finish up my instructions. I won’t feel comfortable leaving Ben unless I know whoever I am leaving him with feels comfortable too. Honestly, I only get this far about 25% of the time. With Coach H, we got this far!

Because Coach H understood Ben’s condition and was eager and willing to work with us, Ben was able to immediately return back to hockey. We had a lot to learn together to help Ben manage his glucose levels during practice and games. Coach H and SMS Hockey provided us with a safe supportive place to do that learning. And that is what we needed most. Ben has skated three hockey seasons since his diagnosis. Every one of his coaches, Coach H, Coach M, and Coach L have all been truly loving and supportive.

Over the past two years, during all our challenges and struggles, Ben has never complained about having Type 1. He has never asked, “Why me?” And he has never said he could not do something because of the disease. One of the reasons for that is because Ben basically is awesome. (I do love my boy.) But another is because he quickly returned back to hockey and he never once considered not skating again. After Ben was diagnosed he very easily could have decided all the finger pricking and glucose checking was too much and quit hockey. If he had done that, I believe he would have a very different attitude toward his diabetes today. He easily could have become resentful and angry.

I have included here a photo of Ben and his teammates after they won a Mite hockey tournament.

These are the moments that could have been stolen from Ben. But that didn’t happen because of SMS Hockey, his great coaches and teammates. I believe SMS Hockey changed the course Ben’s life. And for that Jeff and I will forever be grateful. I was very, very wrong to have ever believed that the hockey community was full of thugs. Instead I have found that it is full of angels!


  1. I am about to sob...this is so great....

  2. Great job. You know that your a "Hockey Mom" now. You have earned that title. Nice blog.