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Love of the Game

Hockey has been a part of my life since my 1st time on skates on the Milwaukee River in Thiensville. Having never played youth or High School hockey my interest really began to grow when I went to school in Madison and went to my first Badger Hockey game. Chris Chelios actually tossed his stick up to us after being ejected for fighting against the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota. After college I moved to Chicago and experienced my first Blackhawks game at the old stadium which was a whole new experience. This again fueled the fire for my love of ice hockey.  But I did not skate on ice again until a bunch of dad’s who had kids playing hockey decided to put their own team together.  The River Rats were officially born and took to the ice.  In 1 year a bunch of 40 year old dads who had never played competitive hockey won the C level championship.  Unfortunately, after that season I missed 2 years of playing hockey due to back surgeries.  After begging my wife and pleading my case, love of the game to play again, I did a try-out and was added to a team ironically enough called the Warriors.  Little did I know how the name would ring in true on and off the ice. We had a successful 2 years together – division championship year 1 and league championship year 2.
It was in my 2nd year of playing that I started to notice changes.  These changes were unexplainable but included difficulty in getting dressed, strength and stamina, and keeping my head up (a vital necessity when playing ice-hockey).  I told our team captain, Kevin, but did not tell the whole team what I was going through and the possibilities of a diagnosis.   Kevin gently shared that the team could also notice changes and their concerns were based on love and support and safety.  I later sent an e-mail to the team and explained I had a motor-neuron disease and a probable ALS diagnosis and this would be my last season.  I hung onto to the hope that the diagnosis was wrong and not probable at all. The Warriors went on to take the Championship that year and I was able to take one final shift with the victory in hand. It was a moment I will never forget and I was able to share that with my three boys raising the trophy in victory.
2Since my playing days ended my symptoms have increased and physically I have experienced more changes. My diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) was confirmed in 2010.  This diagnosis ended my playing days, but I am an active participant and supporter as 3 of my 4 children play high school/youth hockey. I also get out to see the Warriors play as time allows. While I treasure the hockey trophies we have won together, I consider my true trophy to be my family who I will continue to fight for in my battle against ALS. Thank you to my team who has stood beside me on and off the ice… they are the warriors who continue to do battle by my side.
I write about this now because this is my favorite time of the sports year. In fact, hockey is the one sport my wife will actually watch with me. So every night the whole family, except Katy, watches the NHL playoffs. Until you have tried it, you cannot imagine the athleticism and difficulty it takes to balance and skate on a 1/8 inch wide piece of steel. Then you have to use a stick while controlling a puck all with your head up and a player defending you. Trust me, it is no easy feat!  As Badger Bob said, “It’s a great day for hockey!”

3 responses to “Love of the Game

  1. I admire your love for your family. You have a blessesd wife to be loved in such a way while you struggle with this horrible disease.

  2. Carole Ann Coombes ⋅

    Oh, Jim!!  I love this story!! In fact I love all of your stories–.  Tales of true courage and dauntless bravery!    Toward the end of Jack’s battle with ALS, our daughter said to him–Dad, you have taught us how to live—–and how to die.  And that he did.  He lived and died with dignity, honor and courage.  But even MORE than that—he TAUGHT our children the same–.  Often without using words.  He also showed them that it is okay for a grown man to cry, when you know that you are losing so much! Oh, Jack knew that the Final Reward is Heaven–he knew and believed that with all his heart.  But when you are a man that always worked hard and built his own Sale Business.  When you marry and live with the love of your life. When your children are your pride and joy–when you love life and ALL that this World has to offer–well, then it is not easy to let go.  But Jim, what I saw happen was something so beautiful–something so powerful that it was,—- well it was miraculous.  When the time came for Jack to “Let Go”, it was so very peaceful–he was so ready–and THAT can only be through the power and the love of God.  So continue to live as best you can Jim, love your family–enjoy your friends all with complete TRUST that when it is time to let go–you will be given all that you need—- knowing, that we will all meet again in a Place of Perfect Love, Laughter, Joy and Peace!!   Carole Coombes

  3. Laura Griffin ⋅

    Jim, you are coming to speak to our special adults in Sheboygan next Monday, and we can’t wait! I showed your hockey photos to my art therapy group this morning, and they loved them. You are a very brave soul and give much to the people around you. Please stay strong in your mind. You are doing amazing things! Laura Griffin

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