Have you ever been asked by a friend or family member to do something for the first time but opted out because you might have been a little apprehensive and then wondered a little later in life what it may have been like? Well if you are either bit like me at all, I would say you can probably count many circumstances where this has occurred.
As my playing career began to wind down I had many questions and concerns as to what my next move would be and what the future would hold. Things such as what would I do now, what would I study in university if I did indeed take that route and then if I did, how many people would be willing to hire a 36 graduate? While all of these things were playing on my mind, on top of it all I developed a fear of flying! Go figure, 11 years playing hockey with approximately 30 flights a year and now I develop a phobia of flying. If you find this hard to believe, just ask anyone that has travelled across the island on a Dash 8 with me, it isn’t a pleasant experience believe me.
The reason I feel it is important to tell you about this is because 6 years ago my sister and her family moved to Africa as her husband was pursuing a career in the Oil and Gas Industry. They only have about a year and a half on their current contract and have been inviting us for the past several years to come visit. Everytime I have come up with some kind of excuse or another so that I would not have to make the voyage all the way to another part of the world. However, at this time, my daughter is nearly four years old and has fallen in love with Africa and all it has to offer through the relationships that she has formed with my sister’s children and everything that she has heard about it the past few years. So, without even checking with me, my wife informs one evening while I was away working that she had booked our flights to Cape Town. Not only were the flights booked, but we were scheduled to leave in about 30 days, January 5th of this year. So, even if I wasn’t OK with the idea of flying, I really didn’t have a choice at this point, did I?
As the days approached to our departure I was becoming more and more nervous with the idea because not only was I about to fly for about 36 hours straight, I was heading to AFRICA. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s not like we’re heading down to St. Pete’s Beach for a family vacation where every second person you pass on the beach is from home, were heading to AFRICA, a third world country that is approximately 12k Kms from St. John’s. How in the hell can I get out of this I was asking myself time and time again. Ultimately there was no way out and South Africa it is…….
The minute that we stepped off of the airplane in Cape Town we were in awe!! Now, I have lived in some of the most popular and greatest cities there are in both Canada and the U.S. I have lived in Calgary, Chicago, L.A, Long Beach, San Diego, Phoenix and the list goes on and on and on. I can honestly say that flying in there and driving through the mountains and past the beaches on the way to my sister’s house was indescribable; it was literally out of this world, just as you would have imagined a place as vibrant and famous as Cape Town to be. No matter how difficult and nerve wrecking it was, it was definitely worth it and to be able to give our children such an opportunity far outweighed anything else that mattered at that time. I was second fiddle and didn’t give a damn! This place was paradise and I was even beginning to think like I did several times during my playing career, wouldn’t it be great to live here. Over my playing days, I played in 3 different cities in junior in 4 years and 16 during my days in the minors. Not all, but some of the moves were mainly because I thought I would be better off on a different team and get a better chance to advance. You know everyone always thinks the grass is greener on the other side don’t they? I definitely did several times during my career, but there was one time that I did move, not because I thought the grass was greener somewhere else but because I wanted to run, run away as far from this place as possible. You see my father passed right after we were eliminated from the playoffs in St. John’s during the 93-94 season and even though I could’ve resigned back with them I opted to head to Chicago because I wasn’t ready or didn’t want to deal with what had actually happened. I guess you could say that I was probably taking the easy way out and avoiding what reality was throwing at me, well you’re right, I was. I should’ve stood up to it and fought it like any other battle I had on the ice over the years.
The reason I choose this as my blog is because Cape Town made me see a lot things in a different perspective. As I spoke earlier about what a paradise it was, there were also other sides of this amazing city that had an everlasting effect upon me as well and made me realize that I am a very lucky person to be from where I am and to have the people in my life that I do today and with that kind of support you can battle anything.
As we were on our way to bring the kids out to pet the cheetahs at a local vineyard one day we had to drive past what is known as a township or to us a subdivision as my sister described it to me. It was a 24 square kilometre area that housed 1.2 million people that lived in shanty’s or shacks as they are known as by the locals. There is no running water or electricity; they are approximately 6’ x 10’ structures composed of whatever materials you are lucky enough to get your hands on. Mostly they are made of scrap metal and wood that falls off passing vehicles and it is survival of the fittest. Most of the children do not receive an education as you are required to pay for it even at the public schools and if you are lucky enough to get a job you probably make about the equivalent of $100 CDN per week which means you barely make enough to pay for the rent of the land that your shack is built upon, but yet they still have the will power to go to work everyday and perform their jobs as though they are taking home 50K a year. Then on Fridays as you pass by you see thousands and thousands of the people that live there walking, jogging and running to keep up their health and stay in shape, now that is what I call will and determination, to not let the elements take over your life and to stand up and have pride in what you have no matter how big or small it is.
They also have a local arena and hockey association in which my sister’s children are registered for as well. Her kids have their gear from home and when needed they pick up new gear when they return for vacation in the summer for a few weeks every year. There are only about 30 kids that are registered and all they do is practice with the local coach and play shiny between themselves, which is difficult at times because the age range is from 6 to 19 years old. They don’t all have gear and more often than not just show up bare footed and tired as they probably walked about 20km’s or so to make it to the rink and it is first come first serve for the gear, which is probably not even something your child would be wearing out playing road hockey. This doesn’t occur just at the rink for hockey, it occurs with all the sports the kids play. They all have the bare minimums and just get by, but it doesn’t seem as though they ever let it get them down. As you drive by watching them play soccer all you here is laughs and giggles, as they allow themselves for a few hours of the day to dream and become someone they know they will never be. They don’t bitch and complain and wish they were someone else or living somewhere else, they take it head on and make the most of what little opportunities they have. You do not hear fans or parents yelling or screaming at the kids or sitting on the sidelines wishing their child was on another team or had another coach and even sometimes wishing their child was someone that he wasn’t. Just try and remember this the next time you go to a rink or ball field and cheer your child or your favourite team on and no matter what the result just think that maybe for a few hours or days each week they are doing something they truly love and enjoy and don’t really care much about what the other side of the fence is like at all.
So the next time you happen to bring your child to the rink or ball field or whatever he/she chooses to do in their lives just take the time to give them a little thumbs up and cheer because sometimes that’s all they need or have to keep them going day after day after day. I for one am going to make sure I do and I am so glad I took my fear head on and made this trip and so grateful to my wife and family that we did cause it has been one of the most amazing rides of my life and I strongly recommend that if there is ever a chance for you do to something that you may be a little hesitant about, do it because you never know it could make all the difference in the world!