Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Eli 12.5: No Spare Ribs

Eli 12.5 was in goal at practice last Thursday, with a coach shooting on him while the other players were warming up in skating drills.

Eli can stop coaches, even the ones who used to be high-end players. He gets beat, but he gets his licks in, too, especially if they try to come in and stickhandle. He gets a better read on those kinds of shots than any kid I've ever seen.

On this night, though, the coach snapped off a hard shot to his right side. There's a minuscule gap in his chest protector, about 1" high and 3" wide (because of how the chest protector fits), but that shot had radar and the puck hit him right on the edge of a rib.

I was watching him, and he made the save, then went right down to the ice. He got up after a few minutes, but he was clearly in pain. At the next break, I motioned for him to come over. He did, and I could see that he was crying.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

"No," he said. "But I want to finish practice." he went back out and went down into the butterfly, not standing up, and even then, his teammates almost never scored on him in drills.

Thirty minutes later, practice ended (he even did the skating drills at the end), and when he skated off, he was still crying.

We stopped at a convenience store on the way home and bought a frozen ice cream cookie, just the right size to fit under his arm. "Man, if you broke a rib, skating through the rest of practice is going to become a legendary story," I said.

"I don't think it's broken," he said. "I think it's just a bad bruise."

"I hope so," I said. "It's a baller move to push through pain, but you can't push through an injury, and you have to know the difference."

"I know," he said. "But I was the only goalie there, and the guys needed me."

The next morning, he was still in serious pain, so Gloria took him in for an x-ray. The doctor said he couldn't tell if it was cracked or just a contusion, but the treatment was the same: out 2-4 weeks until the pain subsided.

When he walked into my study, I gave him a hug. "Man, I am so sorry," I said.

"Thanks," he said. "I can't believe it."

"It's an occupational hazard of wanting to be great," I said. "Everyone who becomes great is always pushing on that threshold. Learning how to handle injury is a big part of becoming an elite athlete. You know that, right?" He nodded. We talk about this all the time, mostly because he has a substantial injury at least once a year.

It was different this time, though. No tears. No drama. We talked about the kind of work he could still do, and we're starting that in another couple of days. He's not sleeping well at night, but he's even handling that pretty well.

I've told him before that it's important to be resilient, because if you're not, you better be damn lucky and never have to face adversity, and no one is that lucky.

We went to eat barbecue the next night at Poke-e-Jo's, one of Eli's favorite restaurants. Eli has a "mix" that he likes when he gets a drink--Sprite on bottom, blue Powerade in the middle, and Sprite on top. It's about a 10/80/10 ratio.

My favorite thing to eat at Poke-e-Jo's is the sweet pickle slices, because they're packed with heat. I don't even really like pickles, but these are fantastic, and I always get a few. So we got our food (not including pickles, which are in a separate area with the onion slices, etc.), and while he was getting silverware and whatnot, I went ahead and got his drink. I came back and sat down at the table.

"Here's your mix," I said, putting his drink down beside him.

"Thanks," he said. "Here are your pickles." He put a small container of pickle slices by my plate.

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