This isn’t about hockey.
It’s about taking a puck in the teeth — metaphorically speaking — and getting up again.
Coll Campbell is stripped to the waist in a sweaty post-game dressing room in Saanich’s Pearkes arena. His shoulder is livid where, a week or so ago, he had 30 stitches sewn in. Skin cancer.
The Radium Hot Springs man was in the middle of that surgery when he piped up with: “By the way, I’ve got an oldtimers game tomorrow. OK if I play?” No, he was told.
So, the 67-year-old waited until the Victoria Playmakers tournament to lace up again. It’s what has brought him back to the Island, where he lived as a boy. In September, he learned he has leukemia, but on this day, perched beside his grandson in the arena, he looks happy as can be.
Campbell isn’t the only member of the Wild Bunch Gulls with a story like that. Their 79-year-old goalie put in a stellar performance Wednesday — “Great glove hand,” tweeted teammate Dirk Meissner — but had to miss the next day’s game to undergo his own cancer surgery.
Given the demographics of the tournament — 38 teams of players who are at least 55 years old, with divisions for those who are over 60, 65, 70, 75 and 80 — there’s no shortage of such tales. As Cleve Dheensaw noted, some call this the Pacemakers tourney. Dodgy tickers, artificial hips, new knees.
Since Tuesday (the games wind up today) Pearkes has seen players with more titanium than a Boeing factory, more burning joints than a Grateful Dead concert.
At this stage of life, all of the 670 men and women (there are six female teams) have lost their share of games, taken their share of stitches, endured their share of adversity.
My brother-in-law, Eric Shishido, travelled here from Kamloops to play for one of two teams that came all the way from Japan.
Eric was born in an internment camp near Hope after the Second World War. His Canadian-born parents had been locked up for the duration, lost everything they owned. After the war, the whole family, Eric included, was shipped to Japan, a country they had never lived in.
Still, despite all they endured, Eric’s parents found the resolve to pull themselves up, claw their way back to Canada and rebuild their family’s future here. Eric grew up to be the only two-time scoring champion of what is now the B.C. Hockey League, playing for Kamloops with his brother Terry. A few years ago, a poll rated Eric one of the circuit’s best players ever, along with the likes of Brett Hull and Paul Kariya.
It’s a story that reminds me of something my mother said a few years ago after I, reluctantly, passed her some sad news that I thought might devastate her.
“Listen,” she replied. “There will be half a dozen times in life when you will be blindsided by something so painful that it brings you to your knees. You won’t think you will ever get up again. But you will.”
We try to shield our loved ones from heartbreak. Kids play sports where nobody keeps score, nobody comes last, nobody gets cut from the team. Can’t flunk students in school, can’t even dock marks for late homework. Children are told to bring Valentines for the entire class, not individuals, lest someone’s feelings get hurt.
Would it not be better to prepare them for a life of win and lose, pass and fail, where you’re either good enough or not? (Besides, do you really want a surgeon who graduated with a participation ribbon?) Take enough hits, suffer enough bad bounces, and you eventually realize that you can’t win them all, but you can stay in the game.
“You learn from it, right?” Campbell says. “You learn you can bounce back from anything.”
OK, maybe not bounce, but at least get up. “It’s how it is: get going.”
And don’t forget to have fun along the way. After a quarter century away from hockey, Campbell has been playing five days a week on an outdoor rink. “It’s a Canadian time machine. You’re 12 years old again.”
The Wild Bunch Gulls lost all three of their games at the Playmakers tournament. (“It all started with a bad coaching decision,” one skater said. “They opened the gate and made us go out on the ice.”)
Campbell had his own theory: “We gave up after they stopped giving us beer tickets.”
Just joking. There’s no giving up. Just ask the 80- and 90-year-olds still driving to the net at the Pearkes arena.
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