“Glove Saves and GPA” is a blog written by former University of Connecticut Huskies goalie Christie Houser. She brings readers an inside look at a NCAA D-I goaltender’s experience, and provides her own foray into the world of the student-athlete. Look for Christie’s work every week right here on The Goalie Guild, and feel free to leave your comments below.
You are probably reading this blog right now because you’re interested in college hockey. Maybe you were hoping for an interview with a coach, or some tips on choosing the right school, or what it’s like for an NCAA goaltender on game day. And while I promise to write about all those things in due time, today’s blog will focus on someone without whom I couldn’t have achieved all I did in hockey, or for that matter in life: my mom.
In my first article, I wrote about my hockey career, and how it started from humble beginnings. My game slots during my first season started at 5:20 am on Saturdays and Sundays. Every weekend, my mom would drag me out of bed and take me to the rink before the sun came up. Mom didn’t just drop me off, either. She stayed and watched every single one of my painfully slow in-house games from the frigid metal bleachers.
At that time of the morning, they don’t bother to open the snack bar or turn on all the lights. And yet she sat there still, cheering when I made one of my few saves, and shaking her head when I took yet another slashing penalty a la Ron Hextall.
Two years later when I needed to improve my skating, mom drove me to the rink once for practice, twice for skating clinics, and once for a goalie clinic every week. We also had to relocate to a rink that was twice as far from home to give me these opportunities, but even with the forty-five minute drive one way, Mom never complained.
As a matter of fact, the only time mom ever got mad at me that summer was when I heard over the radio that Brian Boucher was traded and I punched a wall in the rink lobby. Of course, she was upset our favorite goalie was headed to Phoenix as well; she just didn’t think it justified broken knuckles. In hindsight I suppose she was right.
When I started getting competitive enough to catch the eye of college coaches Mom supported me yet again. She could have sent me to the showcases by myself, however she knew that I was still a bit shy, wouldn’t know anyone there, and hated flying. So rather then sending her awkward teenage goalie off to eat lunches staring at walls and getting labeled as the weird kid, she bought an additional plane ticket and went with me.
After the hockey ended, we would explore the areas we were staying. I got to see Chicago’s Navy Pier and eat deep-dish pizza. I got to play videogames at Playdium in Toronto and take in the views from the CN tower. I got up close and personal with big horned sheep, black bears, and even a baby moose in Glacier National Park in Alberta. We also got a little too close to a herd of Buffalo at Glacier, as Mom, ever the adventurer, was too excited about seeing buffalo to heed the warning signs about the animals’ tendency to charge cars. The fact that we were in a bright red pick-up probably didn’t help either, but thankfully we escaped from that little escapade unscathed.
Mom took me to all these places during our hockey trips because she knew we might not get the chance to see them again, and thus we took advantage of our opportunities when we had them. This was just how Mom was. She was always positive, seized the moment, and made the best of every situation.
Perhaps the most pivotal trip Mom ever took with me was for my official visit. While many college hockey recruits are flown in on their own, Mom made the drive to upstate New York, picked me up, and drove me to Storrs, CT herself. You might also remember that I told my Coach at the end of my visit that I was ready to be a UConn Husky. I can guarantee that I would not have made my decision without my mom sitting there with me.
There were two reasons for this.
First, it had been a long journey to get to that point, riddled with the highs and lows that every high-level athlete experiences. Mom was there through the entire journey, it only seemed right that she was also present for the culmination. And second, because it was after all those years of watching her seeing opportunities and making the most of them, that I knew now it was my turn to do the same.
Connecticut was a mere three hours from home, compared to my prep school, which was seven, so mom and dad both visited me frequently. Both were there for my knee surgery and countless times after that. When I graduated from UConn in 2010 my entire family made the trip to Storrs. During my senior banquet I made a speech thanking Mom, Dad, and both of my sisters, for all they had done throughout my hockey career. My dreams of playing college hockey never would have had a chance without their ever-present support.
You are probably wondering what made me write this piece now. Something had to have happened to make all of this fresh in my mind again.
One year after I graduated from college, Mom was diagnosed with Stage Four Lung Cancer. Coming to terms with that diagnosis was one of the toughest things I had ever done, but if Mom could stay optimistic through this than so could I. She told me on the phone when she was in the hospital that “this wasn’t the end.”
I knew she wasn’t going to give up without a fight and without seizing a lot more moments along the way.
Most people with Stage Four Lung Cancer can’t fight it at all. However my mom was not most people. Not only did she fight it off, but the first round of chemo completely eradicated the disease for a time. And despite the brutal effects of drugs and treatments on her body, which included losing her hair, considerable strength decreases, and eventually losing the ability to walk more than a short distance without coughing, Mom didn’t stop for anything.
The months that followed were a true gift for all of us. She went to visit my sister studying abroad in Spain. She had the opportunity to get to know my boyfriend, and became a second mother to him. She visited my sisters at their colleges numerous times. She continued to drive her school bus for as long as she could. She swam almost every day, and proclaimed herself a “water rat,” as she was at the pool almost as much as my sisters, who are both NCAA swimmers.
She planned one more awesome trip to Lake Placid, this time as a family vacation. She helped me move out of the house, and helped me with laundry every time I came back to it. She even came to one of my crappy beer league games, and commented that for a “very out of shape” former athlete, I played “pretty damn well.” She made every moment of the last year count, all the while smiling and keeping her incredible sense of humor and personality intact.
In late November, things took a turn for the worst. Just before Christmas, Mom came home and went on hospice. In typical Mom fashion however, she continued to fight for days after having any life saving drugs removed, vowing not to leave us before Christmas. She didn’t, she was right there, sitting in her recliner, just as she was for the 25 Christmases I spent with her before that. Two days later, she passed away peacefully with the whole family by her side, just as she always was for us.
Losing my mom was the hardest thing I have ever endured. In addition to supporting me in hockey, I also read her every one of my blogs before I published them. This is the first one I have written without her final approval. And yet despite the pain, I fight through to positivity because that’s what she wanted. If I were to stay depressed, she would undoubtedly not approve, and would tell me to instead stay positive and keep working. She would then probably tell one of her horrible jokes that were so bad you had to smile.
“Christie, why don’t mice have balls?”
“I don’t know Mom, why?”
“Because they can’t dance.”
See, I told you it was bad. But you’re smiling now aren’t you?
So that is what I’m doing. I’m smiling. I’m thinking of her bad jokes. I’m seizing the moment. I’m staying positive and making the most out of everything. I’m complaining less, and doing more. And above all else I’m keeping my head up, and continuing on my quest as a hockey writer. Not only for myself, but now also for her.