This is the sixth installment of our ‘Hockey Strong’ series which will be continued for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. January’s feature is from Dirk Morgan, member of Team USA.
The first time I set foot on ice I was four years old and I fell in love with the game immediately. A year or two after I started playing, I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease. I still remember going to Boston and talking with the specialist. They asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told them I wanted to play for the Boston Bruins and drive race cars. At the end of the appointment, they told me I would never drive and that hockey was not a sport for blind people. Thankfully, my parents didn’t force me to quit the sport I loved and I continued to play up until I graduated high school. After I graduated high school, I thought my hockey playing days were over. Fifteen years without hockey went by before one of my sisters told me about blind hockey. I immediately got in touch with the Captain of the Hartford Braillers and after talking for a few minutes, he invited me down to play hockey in Hartford. My sister Sietske and I got a ride down to Connecticut and we had the time of our lives. I instantly fell back in love with the sport.
Before I knew it, I received an invitation to try out for Team USA and to my surprise, I made it. Finding out I made the team was the third greatest moment of my life (right after the births of my two kids). It opened a whole new chapter of my life. I started traveling every few months to play in tournaments and meeting amazing people who became new friends. It gave me something to look forward to and a goal to work toward. Blind hockey instantly flipped my life upside down and I was loving every second of it.
I thought it was all going to come to an end when I went into the boards and separated my shoulder during a game between Team USA and Team Canada in Ottawa. As much as my shoulder hurt, it didn’t come close to the agony of watching the games from behind the glass unable to help my team. I swore I’d do whatever it took to get back on the ice again.
I worked harder than I ever did in my life to get my strength back and I was able to skate with the team again in February. The Disabled Hockey Festival in Pittsburgh was going to be my first tournament since my injury and I was determined to show the blind hockey community that nothing could keep me down. Then, COVID-19 hit the world like a sledgehammer.
In my life, I’ve had to overcome obstacles, but nothing really compares to what we have experienced in the last year. I have been riding a roller coaster of ups and downs since March. With hockey being shut down, my work being shut down, and basically the whole world being shut down, it got harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning. The light at the end of this dark tunnel is the day we get to go back on the ice with our friends and teammates. I don’t know when that is going to be, but I am going to put all my energy into being ready for it.
If you asked me a year ago how to be Hockey Strong, I probably would’ve told you to get out on the ice as much as you can and use every second of ice time like you were playing in the biggest game of your life. Of course, COVID has made us all think more creatively about the world and how we train. At first, I was going to an empty parking lot and skating and stick handling, but now that it’s colder and I live in an area with a lot more cars, that’s not really an option anymore.
Recently, I’ve been able to get into a good routine of waking up early, doing at least thirty minutes of yoga, an hour of cardio, and some strength building exercises (e.g., total gym, resistance bands, hand and ankle weights). I set up all my workout equipment in my living room so it’s the first thing I see every morning. It’s hard to avoid working out when all your equipment is right there mocking you every second of the day.
To anyone who is having trouble getting motivated to work out, I have two suggestions. First, start every morning with some sort of exercise. It could be anything from basic stretching to a full Insanity workout. Just do something that gets your blood flowing. No matter how tired you are, you’ll feel better once you start moving and it’ll make the rest of the day go so much easier. My second recommendation is to find a workout buddy. It’s so much easier to get into a workout when you have someone there with you pushing you to do better. This could be someone in your house or a friend you talk to over Zoom. If you can’t find anyone, there are tons of workout videos you can watch and the people in the videos will help get you into a workout.
Being Hockey Strong has nothing to do with individual strength. Hockey is a team sport. Being Hockey Strong is not about making yourself the strongest, fastest, or smartest person on the ice. It’s about doing whatever it takes to make your team better on and off the ice. This last year, we have all been on this crazy roller coaster ride, and the truth is it can be scary, but when you play hockey, you’re never alone. Together, we make each other better, faster, and stronger. My challenge to everyone who reads this is to commit to doing your part to making our team, our family, and our community Hockey Strong.