Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Big Eli 13.8 Post

We ate breakfast Saturday morning at the Pancake House.

As we were walking back to the car, I started to run.

Eli 13.8 started laughing and chased me. We were both sprinting like crazy, trying to reach the car first. "Oh my god," Eli said, laughing. "We are such idiots."

Fair point.

Eli is a teenager now. He's 5' 8 1/2" and 120 lbs. (and it's all muscle, too). His voice is almost as deep as mine. He can touch a regulation basketball rim, and his standing long jump is 8'0".

He's very different from the boy I've written about for over twelve years, but in some ways, he's not different at all. If I start running for absolutely no reason, he'll still chase me. He's still a kind and generous (and gentle) person. He's still utterly funny.

So he's different, but he's not different at all. He's both at the same time.

This is what I didn't understand about the transition into being a teenager: it happens at a very uneven rate. There are thousands of little pieces of a person that transition into being a teenager. Some of those little pieces change early, but even after they've changed, other pieces will still be as they were in childhood.

Eli can make his own dinner with no problems. He can scrimmage against adults and hold his own. He also still has a stuffed bear on his bed, and that bear might be there for years.

It's an uneven, messy process, just like much of life. However, and this is important, "messy" doesn't mean "bad".

There's a reason I haven't written about Eli for a while, but I didn't understand it until today. All I knew was that something wasn't in place.

Children tend to have discrete moments, moments that lend themselves to teaching. These little moments are building blocks, and building blocks are easy to write about.

With Eli now, though, building blocks have been replaced with flow. There's a current to his life that wasn't there before. There aren't set pieces.

We still enjoy our time together as much as ever--maybe even more--but that time doesn't lend itself to long write-ups as readily.

The only thing I try to do now--and I've always tried to do this--is to be as simple and straightforward with him as possible. Be kind to other people. Work hard for what you want. That will take him a long way. He taught me that life is much simpler than I ever thought it was, so I'm trying to remind him now.

His life still revolves around hockey. He was on a very, very poor team this season--not poor in personality, because many of the kids were terrific--but they just weren't very good hockey players. So he played some phenomenal games and wasn't rewarded in the slightest, because they were unwinnable games going in.

He reached a point, midway through the season, where he was fed up with guys not playing their positions. He was facing 40 quality shots a game, which was ridiculous by any standard, and he finally reached the point of being angry. We had a long talk the next day, and I asked him who he wanted to be. He could be the guy who felt victimized, and nobody would even blame him. I asked him, though, where would that get him?

"Nowhere," he said.

The next night, there was a new kid who had moved in and was joining the team. He was a big kid, and not in very good shape. One of the things the team did in warm-ups was pushups, and the new kid couldn't do nearly as many as was required. The coach told him that he had to start over, and the kid was ready to walk right there.

"I'll do them with you," Eli said. So he did, and after a few push-ups, the rest of the team started doing them as well.

Was this some kind of turning point for the team? Not really, at least in a competitive sense; they still lost nearly every game. It was a true moment of leadership, though, and it reminded me that Eli was still a leader, even when he was frustrated.

Mostly, though, even during this season from hell, he worked. Worked and worked and worked. It really sets him apart from other kids, that willingness to push himself. He understands that he's in a long, long process, and that every off-ice workout where he truly pushes himself is one more tiny step. Plus, he likes the work.

The season wasn't all gloom.

While we were in Dallas for a tournament, we went by a Hockey Giant in Plano (mandatory trip when we're up there). There was a shooting contest in progress, and it required the shooter to make a shot in all four corners (there was a goalie tarp attached) as quickly as possible.

It took Eli four shots. 7.9 seconds.

Several of his teammates were there, and of course they lost their minds over seeing their goalie turn into a sniper. He wound up with the fastest time on his team.

The top 15 shooters qualified for an on-ice shooting contest at a local rink, and he wound up 5th (out of hundreds of kids, because the contest ran for about four weeks after his time was posted), but there was an ice storm in Plano the weekend of the next round, and we couldn't get there.

Bragging rights, though, were not diminished.

He's in the (very short) offseason now, working on building his explosiveness. I think that's his ticket to bigger and better things. He needs to be able to shock people with his athleticism, and if he can, that will get their attention.

Truly, he's already in the super freak category.

I found an academic article about the standing long jump length of goalies who attended the 2008 NHL Scouting Combine. The mean standing long jump length for goalies was 8'0", and as I mentioned at the front of this post, that's Eli's standing long jump length now, as a 13.8 year old.

That's utterly ridiculous, because he's going to grow at least another 5-7 inches. Plus his legs are already as long as mine, even though I'm still 4 1/2" inches taller.

He's a super athletic giraffe, basically.

Eli is still several years too young to have any idea how far he might go. But his attitude is going to help. He talks in his sleep, and during one tournament trip he started talking in the middle the night. Here's what he said: mumble mumble mumble work ethic mumble mumble.

Even in his sleep, he's working.

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