Accompanied by three college coaches - two soccer and one field hockey, and another sport enthusiast, I never thought my introduction to NHL ice hockey would be in sunny Florida. Although I saw my first NHL game in the United States, I realized that this was still a truly Canadian experience as the majority of players in both teams were Canadians. With 8 players in The Colombus Blue Jackets and 14 players in The Panthers, the 2018-19 season had Canada well represented! And I can imagine how enticing it would be to be based in sunny Florida while still playing the game you love! Truly the best of both worlds.
My introduction to ice hockey was in Madison Wisconsin, at a UW Badgers game. Always a hockey enthusiast, the adrenalin of scoring goals is in my blood. Watching ice hockey proved just as exciting, even from the stands, and it takes on a whole new level of intensity with all the fighting and penalties. A few years later I saw UW lose to my own college hockey team, the CC Tigers. It was there on our freshman orientation backpacking trip in the Rockies that I got to meet a promising Canadian player. Not soon after, Jaden Schwartz was drafted into the NHL and currently plays for the St. Louis Blues.
Hockey games are so much fun, and this one was no exception. Between the hype and hysteria and the quest for cheese nachos, there was even a proposal! And - she said yes!
And how could I be Canadian and not know about the goal of 1972! Just the other day I was reading Shooting for Glory, by Paul Henderson. It was inspiring to read of his life on and off the ice, and how he found God in his quest for true satisfaction. As he said himself, "Contentment does not come from achievement. It comes from a relationship with the Lord."
During our drive to the game, I enjoyed learning about the experience of another Christian athlete, a Canadian field hockey player. Donna Hornibrook, a coach at Cornell University, shared some really amazing experiences she had while representing Canada in Holland, South America and elsewhere. (I hope to share more of her amazing story soon!) It was also interesting to find out that the year Zimbabwe won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympics, was the year a few teams, including Canada, boycotted the games in Moscow. And this was the year that Donna was part of the team! I guess it all worked in Zimbabweans favour, as we have only won 8 medals in our whole Olympic history, of which we're still very proud! Most of these medals were won by a swimmer, the present Minister of Sports, Kirsty Coventary. Holding the record for the highest number of individual Olympic medals of all female swimmers in history, and the highest number of Olympic medals in African history, she made her debut in Greece, winning three medals and won four at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
I was in China during the 2008 festivities, but sadly never made it to watch the swimming. I did however manage to watch Kirsty race due to the event coverage on the Beijing subway. Having been on a mission trip in southern China, working on a farm and teaching English, I didn't have the money to see the Olympics, but the Lord made a way through a friend to get access to some cheap tickets. In addition, a daughter, of one of the ladies on our nationwide team, was on the US Olympic soccer team. It was a proud moment for her when they went on to win gold! I was able to watch two games from the two favourite sports I used to play. I was probably the only Zimbabwean in the South Africa vs China field hockey game, and proudly took a flag to wave in solidarity with my continent. The second event I saw proved a mad dash, as I was leaving the day of. But watching the fastest men in the world race down the track in the trial events on the first day of the Track and Field, will always remain a most memorable experience. As a former sprinter, this was a true highlight for me and it was during these games that Bolt, the Jamaican, made his debut.
And talking about Olympic athletes with the speed of lightning- during my time in Florida, I decided to read a book about the untold story of Eric Liddell. Most people know him from the acclaimed film, Chariots of Fire, his stand to not run on Sunday and his dazzling 400m sprint in the Paris Olympics, but fewer know about his incredible sacrifice in China, his encampment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Weifang, and his Christian service at "home and abroad".
Born in China, he eventually died there. He was considered "with paternal pride as its first Olympic athlete. In Chinese eyes, he is a true son of their country; he belongs to no one else." (p.5)
On public platforms he shared of the "good sportsman in all of us." (p.134) "That a man who had got the spirit of sportsmanship in his game would be able to carry that spirit into everyday activities." "Liddell welded sports to sportsmanship, calling the first element of it 'courage'." (p.133) The courage he had used to win the gold was the same courage he exemplified off the field. Called to China, Weifang, was "the place where, even on the edge of death, the champion ran his last race" (p16). Truly one of my heroes, ""his heroism was to be forgiving in the most unforgiving circumstances." (p9)
He never saw the birth of his third child, but his legacy lives on. Married to a Canadian missionary kid to China, his wife and three daughters returned to Toronto during the war. I'm not sure if the speed gene passed on to any of his descendants, but it would be interesting to find out? Canadians have some amazing athletes and one advantage of being Canadian, is that often you get the opportunity and funding to follow your dreams. See More
NHL started in Canada and has become a multi-million dollar business. I'm so thankful to have seen my first game, but my initiation into Canadian hockey in Canada is yet to come. Will it be in Montreal or will it be Toronto?