The 40-Year-Old (Goalie) Virgin, Part 1: My Start
Once Upon a Time in Detroit
First, a disclosure: I am not an athlete, nor have I played one on TV. I can (sort of) skate, but I’ve barely played hockey.
Despite all that, I’ve decided to become a goaltender… at 40. Why? There’s something about it I just can’t shake that’s finally become irresistible. I’m not sure exactly what that something is, but I’m going to find out the hard way: diving head first. I hope you (soon to be!) fellow beer leaguers have as much fun reading about it as I’m going to have doing it.
I’ve always liked sports – at least conceptually – but more often than not, my enthusiasm vastly outstripped my skill. I’ve been gym-class hero exactly once in my life. Ironically enough, it was playing floor hockey in eighth grade. I looked like pre-injury Chris Pronger out there; the fact that I was a transfer student and hated most of the kids in my class probably didn’t hurt matters any.
But I was a little black girl, and this was northwest  Detroit in the early 80s. There were no magical frozen creeks, no ponds, and I hadn’t even heard of a backyard rink! In the world I knew, hockey was a foreign concept, that mysterious thing white guys did on the super-snowy CBC channel. No one I knew played, or even watched. My dad, the only legitimate athlete in the family, ate slept and breathed golf now that his semi-pro football days – at my mom’s insistence – were behind him. Winter was merely time to get ready for spring.
I took figure skating lessons at a nearby arena when I was about 9 or 10. The hockey boys who shared the ice with us were wild and rough; their sudden, dramatic, snow-spraying stops terrified me (granted, that didn’t take much). All I wanted was to avoid them at all costs and figure out how to skate backwards. I succeeded at only one of those.
Things changed my senior year of high school. By that point, I’d been surrounded by passionate hockey fans for three years, and curiosity finally got the best of me. I had to find out what all the fuss and bother was about. My best school-friend at the time volunteered to lead me out of my ignorance and taught me the broad history of the NHL while simultaneously guiding me through the 1993-1994 Red Wings season. By the time we saw baby-faced Chris Osgood break down in tears following that brutal misplay against the Sharks, I was head-over-heels in love with this exotic game, and with the goalies most of all.
Except Patrick Roy. Nobody here in Wings Country liked that guy. Nobody.
Now fast forward 23 years.  I looked around one day late last year, and suddenly realized that all the pieces had gathered into a tidy pile at my feet. The horrific asthma that I’d suddenly developed at 15 – and that very nearly killed me at 24 – was under solid control. I had my own transportation. I had something that vaguely resembled a “real” job, so I had a bit of discretionary income. I had no children, no spouse, no relationships, and no social entanglements, so I had time. And I’d just turned 40. So I did what every reasonable, newly-middle-aged woman does: I decided I was finally going to learn to play hockey.
I signed up for skating lessons, and tried to convince myself that playing defense would be good enough for me. My gym was weirdly awash in elite goalies; in addition to being old enough to be their mother, I’d seen them work, and I was absolutely not on their level. I couldn’t even find the door to the stairs to their level. Yes, defense was close enough, and my inelegant, draft-horse build was far better suited to it. But like some horribly cursed item in a Stephen King story, every time I skated past the blue paint, I could hear it whispering to me. Challenging me. Daring me. Reminding me how extremely cool all the gear is. I’m sure at least half of what it said was outright lies, but let’s face it, there’s no arguing with that last one.
Furthermore, I’d decided that I wanted to go to grad school to snag that Athletic Training degree I’d set out for long ago. The things that make a solid netminder – patience, determination, focus – also make a solid grad student and AT. If I could pull off this unlikeliest of athletic feats, then what couldn’t I do? 
So, here we are.
Welcome, ladies and gents, to my quest to become a beer league Legend.
Heaven knows what’s going to happen here. But she who has the best story when she dies wins, and I’m here to be a contender.
Enjoy what you read here? See Part II: Sacrifice on the Iron Altar