Posted by: trevormeers | February 18, 2010

Swifter, Higher, Stronger, Curler

Every four years—or two, or whatever it is now—the Olympics roll around and inspire kids across America to go out and live like their newfound heroes. Skating rinks, for example, start gearing up for untold thousands of children sparked into action by their first look at figure skating. Little girls show up with their first pair of skates, followed closely by a few boys and their dads worrying over whether their sons really ought to be trying hockey instead.

Even my brother and I sniffed the Olympic dream on the windswept Nebraska farm where we grew up. We lived about as far as one can get from the glories of a Vancouver, Torino or even Lake Placid. I knew no one who had ever been on ice skates, and the only skiing within 600 miles was at a place called Nebraska-SKI (I’m not making that up). People who went to this river bluff to carve some epic turns—and I didn’t know any of them—were like the prairie version of a Jamaican bobsled team. Still, the 1980 games put our imaginations on hyperdrive with a bunch of American college guys punking the Russians and Al Michaels yelling, “Do you believe in miracles. Yes!” So we turned off the black-and-white TV my family still clung to in 1980 and decided to hit the ice.

Our dreams couldn’t be slowed by lack of rink, sticks, pucks, skates or the slightest clue about how one actually played hockey. We had Oak Creek and temperatures cold enough to freeze moving water. Game on!

Our gear consisted of a used tuna can with the label torn off to make it more aerodynamic. We bounced down the snowy creek bank on the butts of our Toughskins and found some sticks on the bank. All the better if they had some kind of crook approximating a hockey stick. If I’d been thinking, I would’ve wrapped electrician’s tape around the end of my cottonwood branch and become the instant envy of the other kids thanks to my obvious eye for authenticity. But even if this brainstorm had come upon me, the electrician’s tape was stuck somewhere in the back of the shed in my dad’s toolbelt, and I was pretty sure mice were hanging out in the pockets of that belt.

Plus, it would’ve taken time to shimmy back up the creek bank, cross the pasture, retrieve the tape and come back. And speed trumped quality every time in our recreation. (An endless frustration to my fussier friends, who spent hours crafting a textbook bunker under the cedar tree, only to learn we’d ended the snowball war and gone in to play Space Invaders by the time they finished.) We didn’t even bother constructing a goal on the ice. We laid down two sticks about 40 yards apart and decided that hitting one of them constituted a goal. When anyone got near a stick, we’d shout “He’s in the crease!” because some kid had heard it on TV and sounded cool the first time he yelled it.

It was a pretty low-contact game between players since we were wearing leather-soled cowboy boots. You cracked the back of your head on the ice a lot in falls, but you couldn’t gather much momentum to knock anyone into the boards—which is hockey talk for grassy creek banks. The best stickmen could deftly flip the tuna can open side up and jam their cottonwood limb into it, then flounder down the ice until they could arc the can toward the goal, throw their arms up in triumph and then try to remember where they were after their cowboy boots slid out from under them and they cracked their skull on the ice.

We passed hours sliding the tuna can along Oak Creek. But in our honest moments, the truth was pretty clear. Even our Olympics-addled imaginations had a hard time squinting hard enough to make kids in seed-corn caps and jeans look like hockey players.

And therein lies the inherent beauty of the sport I’ve been enjoying most during this week’s Olympics: curling. Here is a televised Olympic sport that could really light some kids’ fires if they happened to be watching CNBC at 6:30 on a weeknight. Most Olympic sports feature young hardbodies launching into warp speeds while wearing outfits that would turn Batman’s head. But curling teams consist of four dudes that look like they might have showed up to install your cable. They wear T-shirts and tennis shoes as they slide rocks along the ice and rub brooms around the stone.

Even a kid with the imagination of a geology major could run outside and picture themselves as an Olympic curler. You go down to the creek dressed in whatever you happen to be wearing and slide some rocks around. If the cows on the bluff overhead stay quiet, you’d be hard-pressed to remember that you’re not in an Olympic venue.

Things don’t get a lot more Olympic than inspiring viewers everywhere to, well, pretty much stick with what they’re doing. And with that noble goal in mind, I have one word to pass along to whoever happens to be the Chief Inspiration Officer for the 2012 summer games in London: Pop-a-shot. Let’s go launch some dreams.

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Responses

  1. Thanks for taking me back to those cold wintry days and nights at the Riverside Park ice rink. With aspirations of becoming the next great Bobby Orr, MY 1963 Christmas wish included hockey skates, authentic stick, and official puck. However not to be, I moved forward into the world of hockey on my boots (work) with branch in hand, slamming any chunk of ice available between a make shift goal of two logs.

    After weeks of toiling and pain working weekends, my first step towards hockey fame became reality as I purchased a magnificent pair of real Hockey skates followed by a stick (with tape) and authenticatle puck. I now could participate with the real players @ Riverside park. Oh! I forgot one thing. I had to learn to skate first. Having accomplished that, after several bumps and bruises, the games began.

    Never made it to the pros, not even past the city rink but what a great time and memory of exciting action and brutal hard fought victory. Thanks for the Memory.


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