As the hockey store manager slid the hulking shoulder pads over my child’s shoulders and then tightened the shin and elbow pads, I watched in awe at the mountain of stuff now velcroed to my eight-year-old. One part of me wondered, “How the heck will I ever get all this stuff on the kid by myself?” While in the other part of my brain, a red sign flashed DANGER! What was I getting us into?
Finally, some 15 minutes later, socks on, hockey pants pulled up, mouth guard in and helmet snapped, I took in the vision of my little girl, geared up for the ice, looking tough in a way I never knew she could be and I beamed proud at her desire to get out there and play.
This was a moment for me. You see, I grew up in Arizona in the eighties. I don’t even think Phoenix had an ice hockey team then. I didn’t know anyone who played. I was one of the first of the Title IX generation to hit high school (a more than a decade after it passed) but back then, in my town, girls did not play contact sports. Softball, badminton, soccer, basketball, swimming and tennis were all typical, “acceptable” choices. We aspired to be the hairsprayed cheerleaders on the sidelines at the boys’ games not running the field with the guys. It’s not that my friends and I were told we couldn’t go out for the male dominated sports, we didn’t even think to ask.
It’s been my opposite experience with my daughter who at the age of five assured us she would be the first woman to play for the New York Knicks. She doesn’t accept gender as a barrier to anything. I pray each night she never loses that optimism and spunk.
But I wondered how learning to play hockey in an ice rink full of energetic boys would affect her perspective. I worried would she get intimidated? Would the boys make fun of her? Would she get hurt?
On her first practice, Sam ended up being one of three girls. She struggled to keep up. Her skating was slow and tentative and she fell lots. But I marveled at how she just got back up. She was entirely focused on improving her own skill not worried about the hoard of kids whizzing around her on the ice.
For five weeks, we got to the rink a half hour early for her intro to hockey clinic to put on her protective clothing and make sure we had properly laced up her skates.
Female cup? Check!
Neck guard? Check!
Positive Attitude? Check!
In the end, Sam learned to skate and even shoot. She mastered some basic turns. But the game did not thrill her like she thought it would. Sure it was fun to skate, but she wasn’t a fan of the itchy socks and sweaty helmet. She never lost her nerve, though. In fact, the experience emboldened her to follow her passion towards her favorite sport of all time: Football.
Now my baby is the lone girl in the entire town flag football league. Hoofing it to practice twice a week and running plays with her twin brother on the field, she’s light on her feet and smiling. She’ll play tight end in the first game this weekend.
I cannot wait to see that ponytail fly.
Author Heather Cabot is a member of the WSF Digital Contributor Team.