At the crossroads


The arrival of the off-season at the end of March was a shock, so focused was I on delivering a peak playoff performance that I wasn’t prepared for what came next.

As I dealt with life without my weekly hockey game, I felt like I was at a crossroads and neither of the two choices before me were palatable.

The first choice was to keep putting myself through the physical rigours that are involved in competing against 20-somethings as a 44-year-old. The upside of this option was that it contains beer. The second choice was to retire to a leisure life of golf and pinnocle, lubricated by some sort of out-to-pasture beverage like pina coladas or margueritas or something. Those were my options as I saw them – either waste away in Margueritaville, as the song says, or toil away in Beerton, as it were.

Part of me felt it was time to retire. But another part recognized that I was staring at a glorious six-month window of opportunity, a chance to take my training to new heights and “awesome-ize” myself in time for next season. After all, last fall’s three-week cram session of training had produced some improvement, hadn’t it? (Yes, it had.) I was curious what six months of focused work could achieve.

As I considered my options, I jumped right into exercising, to start tuning my body just in case I decided not to retire. Within a couple weeks of my last game I was devoting time every evening to performing leg-strengthening exercises in the form of jumps and lunges, all in the comfort of our living room as the NHL playoffs unfolded on the TV.

My daily regimen quickly had my legs feeling firm and sprightly. At work I’d bound up the stairs two at a time and displayed tremendous first-step quickness whenever word spread that doughnuts were waiting by the coffee maker.

Around this time I also began twice-weekly physiotherapy sessions to address a knee that complained whenever its routine was interrupted by any type of bump and a hip that launched darts of torment with my every move. The therapist zeroed in on some muscle weakness that was contributing to my woes and taught me some exercises to shore up those areas. The exercises became part of my daily routine.

After a while I started to take my workouts outside. This gave me a slap-in-the-face dose of reality. Here I’d thought I was getting in pretty good shape but it turned out that, when it came to propelling me around in a sustained fashion, my legs were still as weak as wet noodles and my lungs had the air exchange capacity of solid wood duck decoys. I spent more time doubled over trying to catch my breath than I did moving my feet and legs.

By the end of April the aggressive kneadings of the physiotherapist, coupled with the improved strength that she was injecting into my body (figuratively speaking), caused my hip pain to subside. This in turn relaxed my angst about my physical condition and swayed my decision.

I would not retire. No, I would train full bore this off-season so I could give ‘er in beer league next season.

This decision necessitated a reassessment of where I was with my training, given my laboured attempts at shuttling my body around. A careful review of my training book (Complete Conditioning for Hockey by Peter Twist) revealed the importance of a high level of aerobic fitness as a base for the later development of strength, agility and quickness. With this as my focus, I sat down and charted a plan.

It’s been going well. With July now here, I’ve put in a fairly solid first half of the off-season and have a plan for the rest of the way. I’m turning in solid, focused workouts almost every day. I can engage in sustained effort without losing my breath. My legs are feeling strong and are getting stronger every week, gaining the strength required to produce quick, powerful bursts of movement. With more than two months to go until the season starts, my physical abilities are taking shape and my hopes are high.

But so too are my antennae of caution. My greatest fear is that I’ll somehow fall off the wagon or miscalculate in my planning or execution, thereby failing to take full advantage of this precious time, arriving at next season in semi-decent shape but basically the same as before – just a slow, unskilled plugger toiling away in Beerton.

With all the work I’m putting into it, if I fall flat with my attempts to transcend my age and skill level, I may yet wish I had chosen Margueritaville. At least then I could claim that there was a woman to blame, as the song goes. Something to keep in mind next time I’m at the crossroads.