Old Time Hockey, eh?
If you didn’t know it already, I play ice hockey (I’m a goalie.) Yes, I was raised in the south.
Back in 2000, my friend Laura and I went to a Boston Bruins game. They lost. Actually, if I remember correctly (and I've taken a few hits to the head since that time), they were spanked. After the game, Laura and I went to the players' entrance to get some autographs. But when you lose that badly, you're usually not in a good mood. Paul Coffey told us to come to the rink the next day during practice and he would sign for us then. I had to fly home, but Laura went to the practice. Not only did she get Paul's autograph, but other players were standing in line to sign things for her. That cemented the Bruins as my favorite hockey team, because they were so darn nice.
In 2007 I joined Atalasoft, and my coworker Steve told me about the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress (MDSC) Hockey game against the Boston Bruins Alumni. How could I pass up the opportunity to skate against the guys in gold? Sure, it was for a good cause, but that wasn't my motivation at the time. Skating against actual NHL players? Heck yeah! Bring 'em on!
Before the game, anyone could lace up their skates and take to the ice with the Bruins. I put on my skates and leg pads and went out to get a slight warm up. And that's when I realized the number one reason I needed to be on that ice. Throughout the stands and on the ice were dozens of little girls, including my friend Alice. Some of them born with Down syndrome, some of them the sister or friend of someone with Down syndrome. They looked at the players for our team and the Bruins, but then some of them saw me. A girl! Playing hockey! Suddenly one more barrier was broken down for them.
That first year, I was traded to the Bruins at the beginning of the first period, so I didn't get to face them. Two years later, I played again, and gave up 12 goals (bringing my ego crashing down hard). My only vivid memory of the second game was actually making a save against Glen Featherstone, who informed me I was "not making another save tonight." He might have been joking, but he's also a foot taller than me. I was intimidated. He was right.
One thing the MDSC does is to ensure that people living with Down syndrome are not intimidated to try new experiences. They can play hockey (like our center in 2007, Matty Shea), they can swim the English Channel (like Karen Gaffney), they can graduate from college, like Katie Apostolides, or they can do it all, like Sujeet Desai.
Working in software, it is very noticeable how male-dominated the culture is, even here at Atalasoft, where we have video games in the conference room and beer on Fridays. Group outings have been to skiing, play volleyball, or go to a Boston Red Sox game. But in software, if women want to join the ranks, the doors are open. For people with Down syndrome, no one is going to say "no, you can't do that", but there are subtle ways to discourage people. Number one is to not offer any examples or role models.
It's been four years since my first MDSC game. If just one of those little girls now owns her own pair of hockey skates, then everything I've done and continue to do is worthwhile. Of course, though, I'm greedy -- I'm hoping every little girl has her own pair of skates, and a stick to break through even more barriers.
I'm playing again this year. November 20th at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, MA. Help me help the MSDC: http://bit.ly/MDSC2011
For more information about the MDSC, visit their web page.