This is the 9th installment of our ‘Hockey Strong’ series, which will be continued throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. This month’s feature is from Mark DeFlorio, member US Blind Hockey Team.
Earlier this week, I was uninvited from playing with the group of sighted players I’d been skating with for the last couple months. My size, competitiveness, speed, and blindness were causing some players to fear a collision and injury. I was a risk. The anxiety of a collision, fostered from the sighted perspective of how a person can be blind and not run into people, was high enough among some of the skaters that they told the skate organizer: “it’s Mark or me”. Well, we know what was decided.
So, this past week, I was feeling like there was no place for a blind hockey player, no place for me in the game, no options to fall back on to skate in a game setting, no group of people OK with me being on the ice and blind. Why did I feel that way? Because it hurt being told I couldn’t play. It hurt being told the game isn’t for me. It hurt because of assumptions, not a truth, and the factors that lead to my parting with the others can’t be changed. I can’t gain sight and say, “All better! Can I skate again?”
“Skate hard, have fun” has been my family’s hockey motto since I first learned the game. It is something I believe, something I tell others, and something my wife and I are instilling into our own kids as they begin playing the game. But skating hard got me uninvited. How can that be fun? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself all weekend.
Yes, I still have the US Blind Hockey Team and the Seattle Blind Hockey Association; I still have all that’s to come as we grow the sport, but hockey is for everyone, isn’t it? This past week was the first time in a very long time that the experiment of “hockey being for everyone” felt too ambitious. Blind hockey players should stick to blind hockey.
Blind hockey players should stick to blind hockey. I pondered that as I licked my wounds this weekend. As I worked through my frustration at the situation, I thought about what I needed to do to prevent it from happening again. I thought through a lot of factors, including about playing with the blind puck because then there’s no mistaking what’s going on. And then, the clarity, the fruits of my thinking hit me: if we get more blind hockey players into the game, then this situation could be prevented because no one would be left out. There would always be a game for someone to join. I was in this situation because blind hockey in Seattle is still emerging and this is the moment for action.
The game goes on. A bad shift, a bad game; a good shift, a good game. The game goes on. Win, lose, play every day, take time off, the game goes on. Since the game goes on regardless, being “Blind Hockey Strong” means turning setbacks into opportunities. We don’t focus on the setback; we run with the opportunity because the game goes on.
I had a setback this week and it inspired me to want to continue growing blind hockey here in Seattle. The weekend ended with gearing-up our 4 year old for his hockey class. Opportunities are always present and always there for the taking. As he pulled on his jersey and grabbed his stick, I was healed from the week and reminded that hockey is for everyone. After all, the game goes on, so celebrate it being for everyone.