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Learning the game at 40: Sheila Philcox’s story of starting hockey as an adult

Hello! My name is Sheila Philcox and I am excited to be blogging for Women’s Hockey Life! I have always been passionate about hockey but I didn’t start playing until I turned 40. Turning 40 is a big event for many women in general. Some women have huge birthday celebrations, some go on trips, some get a tattoo… for me, this was the year that I was able to fulfill my lifelong dream of playing ice hockey.

As a girl growing up in Richmond BC in the 1970s, there weren’t any outdoor ice rinks to skate on. There didn’t even seem to be that many boys in my neighbourhood that were on hockey teams and there certainly wasn’t a league for girls to play ice hockey. Despite all of this, I still managed to grow up loving hockey.

I often went to NHL games with my Dad and we watched hockey on TV. When the games weren’t on TV we listened to them on the radio. This is where I learned the rules, watched strategy unfold before my eyes and became a real fan of the game. I did get to play on my school’s ball hockey team, but there was no swishing sound of the skates on ice and the ball was a bright orange bouncy thing, not a black rubber rocket that pinged the crossbar and in—it just wasn’t the same.

Fast forward 30 years later and I’m in my living room with a bunch of my neighbourhood Mom friends when one of them, Jody, says she has to leave and it’s not even dark outside yet.

“Why?” I ask in that “What—are you going to turn into a pumpkin if you don’t get home by midnight?” kind of way.

“I have to go to hockey,” she replies.

“You’re going to watch a hockey game right now?” I ask for clarification.

“No, I’m going to play,” she says without hesitation.

“On ice?” I ask clearly needing a little *more* clarification…could I be hearing this correctly?

“Yes,” she said with a smile.

I must’ve paused for a few moments to process what my ears had just heard and then what followed was a barrage of questions that couldn’t be answered quickly enough: “Where? Are you on a team? How did you start playing? Do you play every week? Can I come to watch? I WANNA PLAY TOO!”

A couple of weeks later I went to the rink to watch Jody’s game. I walked into the cold rink not sure what I’d find. Lo and behold, before me was a rink full of women playing hockey. Except for the Olympics, I didn’t even know it was a thing! Especially for “regular” people who had jobs and kids. I could not have been more excited to see her AND two whole teams worth of women playing my favourite game. I’d found my people! I almost wanted to cry but I didn’t want to seem blubbering in front of all these tough hockey ladies. They would never let me play if I did that, I told myself.

The idea of playing hockey made my mind spin. I couldn’t imagine the luxury of being able to do it, yet I couldn’t imagine passing up the opportunity when there were other women, like me, who were there doing it every week! At this point, my kids were seven and five. I’d been at home for so many years with them I don’t think I even remembered what it was like to go out and do something for myself—with other adults!

A few months later, I was at work having a conversation with another woman named Jan and the topic of hockey came up. She told me that she grew up in the Maritimes and she’d grown up playing hockey… and still plays hockey today. Wow! I was blown away. Imagine growing up playing hockey on a pond with all of the neighbourhood kids? Imagine being a grown up and playing hockey on a pond with all of the neighbourhood moms?

Jan emailed me a few weeks later about a beginner skills class for women that she’d heard about. It was perfect! This class was held during the day when my kids were at school! No childcare to worry about and at long last the dream would come true! It didn’t take long for my husband to agree that this was a great opportunity for me to try what I’d always dreamed of. It was also a great chance to get out and exercise too!  My plan was to get equipment, do the skills classes and then the following Fall I was hoping that I might even be good enough to join a league!

I was so nervous on the first day of class that my stomach felt queasy. I figured it was a beginner class, so I didn’t need full gear. I bought a helmet, stick, neck guard and gloves. Let’s just say I learned pretty quickly that there is a reason why shin pads are strongly suggested. It was probably only about 10 minutes in to the class when a stray puck dinged me in the shin! OUCH!

“Next week, I’m getting shin pads coach,” I said as I tried to shake off the sting.

I was a pretty good skater growing up, so it didn’t take me long to feel comfortable skating but the stick felt like a foreign object and holding it with these huge gloves felt so awkward. That wasn’t going to get me down, though and by the end of class I’d sort of gotten the hang of it. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t good but I learned a lot!

More than anything that morning, I felt like a real hockey player! I didn’t have all the equipment, I didn’t have any skills, but when I got out to my car and called my husband at work I exclaimed “I LOVED IT! Except for the two days when each of our kids was born, this was definitely the BEST. DAY. EVER!!!!!!”

A few months later I was signed up for a league while continuing to do the skills classes to improve as much as I could. It has now been seven seasons of hockey for me and I have loved it all. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but every time I enjoy that hour.

I highly encourage all women who have hesitated to take up hockey as an adult to stop procrastinating. Learning to play hockey has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. It doesn’t matter how old you are; if you have the passion for it, do it! Not only did I get to play my favourite sport, I met a whole new community of fantastic women, and add recurring weekly exercise to my schedule.

When you are at a game, all the stresses of the day get left in the dressing room and your mind clears as you envelope yourself in something else for an hour. (This is extremely good therapy for people like me who find sitting in a yoga class and meditation difficult).

It is also an incredible example for your children to see that Mom isn’t just a mom—she’s a woman who has interests in many things and who feels confident enough to show her children the importance of being an individual as well as a member of the family. There will always be activities going on in your life with kids and family, work will always keep you busy and perhaps tired at the end of the day, but let me say that there is no other joy quite like heading to the rink to blow off some steam with your teammates, reenergizing your body and remembering that you still have to take care of YOU!

Photo Credit: RamoM/hckygrlphoto


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