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57 is the new 40

One night a week, from early April until late October, about 90 great guys from all walks of life sneer at Old Man Time and play ball hockey on an outdoor pad in a quiet Toronto neighbourhood. Tuesday nights, residents in the area can hear the familiar sounds of our games reverberating throughout the park. You know, a slap shot, a referee’s whistle, the chirping between the benches, and the beep, beep, beep of the defibrillator (kidding… so far). And Wednesday mornings my neighbours can hear the familiar sounds of a man in full-on anguish and agony as I engage in tense negotiations with my muscles in the hopes of eventually hauling myself out of bed. It wasn’t always like this. You see,
I’m now 57.

And before any of you claim that there’s nothing unusual about middle-aged men playing hockey once a week, let me simply point out that I’m talking about ball hockey, not ice hockey. There is no loafing and gliding when you’re running on concrete. Rookies to the iceless game sometimes try to glide when they’re tired, just out of habit. A faceplant quickly follows. And there’s not a lot of forgiveness in that concrete floor.

My point here, and I know I have one somewhere, is that I don’t “identify” as a 57-year-old. I’m still shocked when it occurs to me that I’m just three years shy of 60. How did this happen? I can assure you that, in the heat of the game, when my fancy stickhandling, pinpoint passing and laser-guided snapshot are all working in perfect harmony (not that it’s happened since 2003, but you get my drift), I feel like I’m 30. My own sense of myself seems trapped in amber at 30 years old. But the morning after the night before (of ball hockey), I’m bordering on quadriplegia and feel every one of my father’s 87 years draped over my 57-year-old body. Eventually, I find my feet and limp into my moaning, I mean morning. (No, I actually did mean moaning.)

But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Why? Well, it’s complex. You see, I love hockey. Always have. I played all through my childhood and into my university years. I wasn’t a star. As some smartass once said after watching my game, “Of all the hockey players out there on the ice tonight, Terry, you were…um…one of them.”

But I loved it. When I got a job and stopped playing, I really missed it—the speed, the camaraderie, the competition. I was so excited when our older son, who was seven at the time, leapt into the game. I lived vicariously through his hockey exploits. I coached his house league team and occasionally helped out with his Select team. When he finished his hockey career and went off to university, I felt bereft. I’d drive by the local arena where he played and feel inclined to hang a left into the parking lot.

So it was wonderful to find the men’s ball hockey league I’ve now been playing in for the last 15 years or so. We have six teams and accept no player under the age of 35. As we grow older, we’ve been moving up the entry age threshold so we’re still competitive. I well remember in my first year in the league as a feisty 42-year-old asking a teammate who the oldest player in the league was. He pointed out a guy we were playing against and claimed he was 52. I was stunned. “There’s a 52-year-old player in the league?!”

That was then. I’m now 57, still playing in the league, and still loving it. But Wednesday mornings are painful.

In fact, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings aren’t great either. But generally by the time Tuesday evening rolls around again, I’m just about ready to head out on the floor with a wonderful, eclectic cabal of grey-haired and balding men for another night of no-gliding ball hockey, another chance to relive my youth, and perhaps even score (I’ve managed to pot a few!).

It’s much more than the game. It’s the guys. It’s the sweat. It’s the rush. And it’s a blow against the years weighing us down and wearing us out. After all, 57 is the new 40.


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