I have never thought of myself as a sports person. I can’t run, I can’t catch and the chance of me ever being able to hit a ball is almost non-existent.
On April 6, 2018, on a normally quiet rural road in my home province of Saskatchewan, Canada, a tragic accident made me realize how much of a sports person I actually am.
A group of what could have been future NHL players, aged 16-21, were doing what they did almost every Friday night during hockey season. Riding the team bus to a must-win game.
The team, including the head coach, trainer, play by play commentator and bus driver, never got to the rink that night.
I have never played hockey, but I was a rink rat.
I was a competitive figure skater from age 6, it’s what you do growing up on the Canadian prairies.
5 days a week, I was at the rink.
2 weekends a month during competition season, I was on the bus.
In those years I must have traveled tens of thousands of miles on the highways and grid roads of Canada and the northern US.
As the tears flowed and my heart broke reading the posts on social media, some from people I knew, many from people I will never meet, I realized how those days in the rink and on the bus taught me some of the most valuable lessons and shaped every decision I have made throughout my life.
I will never be a morning person, but at 5:15 am I ’d meet my Dad in the kitchen where he would be pouring coffee. With mostly nods and few words, we’d head out the door and off to the rink, some of my best memories of my Dad were our rides to the rink.
I learned that not being a morning person doesn’t matter if you are motivated to get out of bed and do something that you love. It’s why I would sleep through an alarm alerting me to go to a job that I hated, but I’ll never miss a 6:00 am flight to meet a client that I adore.
At times, having your own business can be kind of a pain. There are days it doesn’t seem worth it. Why deal with all the hassle when you can go get a job and have way less stress?
Because the real work starts when you want to give up.
I hated upper body training, to this day I’m sure I don’t actually do push-ups correctly. But I will forever remember the trainer, standing over me with a no-nonsense look on his face saying, “if you really want to win, you have to do the stuff you hate. If you want to win, give me 3 more reps, if you don’t care enough, go ahead and quit.” I might have been crying in pain by the end of the session, but I did the reps.
Playing hurt is part of any sport. After a bad fall, the trainer or medic would come out, if nothing was broken they’d ask you how many fingers you saw and if you smelled smoke or heard loud ringing (BTW back then the answers were always; 3, no and no, that kind of stuff wouldn’t fly today) and if you answered correctly he’d tell you that you were good to go. Skate through the pain.
One year at the western finals, I had one broken wrist and one sprained wrist but with the right cast and tensor bandage, I thought I was just fine. After final warm up my coach and the team manager called me off the ice and into the stands. They told me that I couldn’t skate in the final program of the weekend. I’d pushed too hard and they were worried about permanent damage. As I choked back tears, my coach told me that the girls were looking to me to let them know they could do it without me and that I would be in the box cheering them on. One of the hardest things I’d ever done was watch my team from the sidelines without being able to contribute. But I got to see how great they really were.
Running a business is a constant juggling act. When you are a control freak it’s really hard to let go, but business is about letting the experts do their thing. Had I not had a view from the sidelines I might never have learned that.
I remember being an impatient teenager and asking my coach why we had to wait for the medal ceremony when we knew 2 hours before that we weren’t going to place. If we weren’t going to be on the podium, why couldn’t we just leave and get a head start on our 10-hour bus ride home? She told me that if we wanted to win we needed to know what it felt like to miss it by an inch. We needed to feel the sting of what could have been to remind ourselves that winning is not always within our control, but discipline and perseverance are.
I learned in business that it’s not always about the wins but about what you learn from the losses and how you will add what you’ve learned into how you play next time. Success is more about accepting failure without quitting than it is about talent, skill or luck.
One of the last things we did before getting on the bus was congratulate the other teams. My coach was adamant about this, on the ice it’s war, off the ice we’re family. Life, and especially business is about being able to go all in and compete against someone and then have the grace and class to congratulate them and wish them well. That’s an invaluable lesson.
As I watched, from thousands of miles away, the support that came flooding into the town of Humboldt, Saskatchewan from around the world reminded me of the importance of community. Of being part of a shared experience that brings together the best of humanity in the worst of circumstances. Of putting the pain of others above our own suffering. Of giving when it hurts and accepting support when it is offered to you.
I was in Vegas on Saturday night and watched as every NHL game started with a tribute to the Humboldt Broncos. It’s something that will stick with me for a very long time. If anyone had told me that the Winnipeg Jets and the Chicago Blackhawks would have moved me to tears I wouldn’t have believed it, but they did. Every player wore a jersey with Broncos on the back, “Tonight, we are all Broncos”
We can all benefit from remembering no matter how successful we become, and playing in the NHL is about as close to the top as one can get, somewhere inside all of us is that kid with a dream. And somewhere within us is the kid who knows what its like to have your dream end. They stood united on the ice, showing solidarity and support to a sport that had given so much to them. Standing in and representing the kids whose lives were cut short far too soon. The kids who would have stood on that ice one day and had their moment in the spotlight. They were giving back, in every way they could.
A reporter caught a photo of 2 Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who had attended the scene returning to place flowers at the site of the crash. A reminder of the unsung heroes who give every day, without expecting anything in return. The people who do whatever they can to make the world a better place, without broadcasting it on Facebook and Instagram, because that’s who they are, no acknowledgment required.
As I watched the love and support flow in I continued to be amazed at the generosity of the human spirit. How when given the right environment we can become the best version of ourselves. It’s something that has been lacking in my life lately as I grow tired of what seems like a world that’s gone crazy and is becoming more fake with every passing moment. The goodness in people has not disappeared, it has just been overshadowed by the noise of those who can’t seem to survive without constant validation. As an introvert, I have no hope of being able to keep up with that. This has reminded me not to bother trying. Not because I’m giving up, but because it’s not necessary.
I want to extend my deepest condolences to the families, friends, billets, communities and every person directly and indirectly impacted, everyone who will never be the same after this tragedy. To the selfless leaders and wonderful young men we lost on that quiet Saskatchewan road. To a province that is in grief and a sport that is in shock, my heart is with you.
And from a small town girl who thought I was never really a sports person, I want to say thank you. Thank you to the coaches, trainers, team moms, bus drivers, teammates and fans who I shared some of the best moments of my childhood with. You were so much a part of me that I didn’t stop to think what my life would have been like without you. You shaped me into the person I have become and for that, I am eternally grateful.
An ongoing fund has been set up in partnership with Wounded Warriors Canada and tema.ca to provide support to the First Responders who arrived at the scene within minutes and worked so tirelessly to save lives after this horrible accident. Click here to donate.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to support the team, players, and their families. The campaign has raised over $9M at the time of this post. Click here to donate.