By: Ashlie Klavon
Life has a funny way of taking the carefully painted pictures we have in our minds of what our lives will look like and shattering them to pieces only to mend the broken pieces back together to form a new image that is wildly different, but also better than anything we could have imagined for ourselves.
I moved to Iowa three years ago with my husband and two boys to begin my journey as a Chiropractic student. Initially, my plans never involved becoming a Chiropractor and they definitely didn’t involve moving to Iowa. But like I said, life has a funny way of derailing the life-plan train. That first year of school was tough, both academically and socially. I had this picture in my mind of what my classmates would be like: a group of health conscious people in their thirties with careers and families. But in reality, I was one of the oldest people in my class, done with my partying days, and out of 120 students, I was the only female with children. I really struggled to connect and find “my people” and started questioning if I had made the right choice moving to Iowa. Loneliness and isolation were not traits I was familiar with, but slowly they crept in until they became a state of being. The lonelier I became, the more I isolated myself.
I was an athlete all the way through college and took for granted the instant, organic friendships that occur when you are a part of a team. Moving to Iowa and being in grad school without having a team to fall back on, I found that making friends was a challenge. Then one day I met Jen. Jen is a fierce mom, comfortable in her own skin, and the kind of person that can make friends with anyone. Jen became my son’s sitter and an instant friend.
Not long after my son started in her care, Jen asked me if I would be interested in playing on her ball hockey team. I had no idea what ball hockey was and quite frankly had no interest in playing any sport involving a bunch of padded people slamming each other into boards and running around with a stick and a ball (my assumption of what ball hockey was). But I also knew I needed to find some way to socialize so I agreed to give it a try.
Playing in my first game was a bit terrifying but also quite a rush. I realized quickly that even though I was an athlete, I had no idea what I was doing. Not knowing the rules, I was never in the right place and I sort of felt like a chicken with its head cut off, just running around trying to figure out which way was up. My assumptions about the sport were quickly put into check as well. The skills needed to handle the ball, pass to an actual person and shoot the ball anywhere close to the net without getting pummeled required a lot of finesse and I realized that those skills don’t appear out of nowhere. What was really cool about being out there though was that the ladies I was playing with were so encouraging and were having so much fun and so was I. We didn’t win our first game – we got crushed in fact – but it didn’t matter. It was about trying something new, learning, and having fun. That first game made me remember how much I loved being able to compete and share in the camaraderie of being a part of a team. I was hooked after the first game and couldn’t wait to play again.
I made it through my first season with some improved hockey skills and a new group of friends. Many of my teammates were just like me, moms coming out to learn and grow together and to play for each other. Ball hockey became the thing I looked forward to every week and the outlet I needed to reconnect with people. In a way, I feel like it brought me back to life.
I continued to play ball hockey for a couple of seasons and started to get the hang of the basics, but I found myself wanting to improve and really wasn’t sure where to look for guidance. I started to watch youtube videos and tried the drills that I could find, but had no clue if I was doing anything correctly. I asked around at the deck for any suggestions but kept coming up short. All I wanted was some coaching and drills that I could use to improve. Then I saw a posting for a women’s skills clinic led by the United Women’s Ball Hockey Foundation – the hockey gods had heard my prayer. I signed up immediately.
I showed up to the clinic the first day pumped and ready to go. Coach Karen started us off with a huddle to give us a game plan and introduced the other coaches. We got started right away working on ball skills. I struggled along with the other women, but it was exactly what I needed and I was so grateful to have a group of coaches as excited as I was to help develop my skills.
The coaches were amazing. I remember Coach Jason helping me with my slap shot, watching my form and giving me little tips to improve my efficiency and power. He was really great at being a birdie in my ear when we were doing drills too, just giving simple reminders and minor tweaks to help me improve without getting too overwhelmed. All of the coaches were so patient with us and gave so much feedback. They really made us feel like athletes and their passion for the sport radiated off each of them. Out of all the coaches though, Coach Karen really had an impact on me. The way she carried herself, not only as a coach, but as a person, was really inspiring. To me, she is the definition of a leader because she has done the work to be an awesome player and leads by example. As a coach, she had this way of motivating us and pushing each of us to be better simply through her passion and desire to see us succeed. The skill level of everyone at camp was varied, but we bonded as a group of women, working hard, sweating and digging deep to grow as players and it was the coaches that created the space to do that.
The experience for me was valuable in a way that I can’t really put into words. It truly felt like time travel back to preseason camp in my college soccer days. It reignited my passion for competition and connection through a shared sport and it reminded me why I love being a part of a team. Ball hockey has not only helped me find a piece of me that has been missing for a long time, but it has empowered me. Thinking back to my first game, I realized how much I have grown as a player. Only two years ago I was like an awkward kitten, sprinting around, faster than most, but struggling to know where I was supposed to be running and sometimes tripping on my own two feet. Today, even though I won’t be getting any calls to join any pro teams, I feel like I have become a leader on my team and my skills have improved dramatically. I am now on two teams and have been subbing for various levels. I have scored and assisted several goals and I am motivated each day to practice to be able to show up a little bit better each week. Even after camp was over, I was still able to continue to practice using videos that Coach Karen posted on the UWBHF Facebook page and connect with the ball hockey community through social media. Camp may have been only one weekend, but having a group of coaches and players to call on whenever we need help is something that will last far longer. I will forever be grateful to the UWBHF for the incredible experience, a new community, and a renewed sense of empowerment. If I, a woman in her 30s, can learn to play a whole new sport, I can do anything.
For anyone out there thinking they missed the bus, they are too old or it is too late to start over, go back to school, change careers or learn a new skill, I have something to tell you. You are NEVER too old to learn something new and if you have the courage to try, you just might find a life greater than you ever imagined.
For more information on how your team or organization can have a clinic with the UWBHF, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the ball rolling today!