One day when I was a pretty young kid, young enough at least not to know any better, a couple of dumb, older kids taught me a ‘trick’ on the bus on the way home from school. They told me to go home and show my parents this ‘trick’. That night, as my Dad tucked me into bed, I showed him what I had learned that day. I put each index finger into the corners of my mouth and attempted to say the word ‘puck’. You can imagine what comes next – the trick is that you can’t actually say ‘puck’; it comes out sounding just a little different.
Being as young and naive as I was I didn’t actually know what I was saying, although my Dad sure did and his reaction was somewhere along the lines of, “well now, I don’t think that’s a very nice thing to say”. Had I been in his position I suspect I would have said something similar, but I also might have also burst into laughter after leaving the room.
It turns out there was good reason for having learned this trick many moons ago. I had quite an opportunity last week to utilize it, and in doing so kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. After I got disqualified from the 1500m at the World Championships for hitting a lane marker, also known as a puck, and thus crossing the line and breaking the rules, I certainly could have put this trick to good use and channeled my brief disappointment rather efficiently. I could have sworn at the very thing that I accidentally hit in just one word instead of two or more! Of course I didn’t actually do this, but it would have been funny if I had.
A lot of people said a lot of things to me after the unfortunate DQ. It was actually a pretty interesting mix of reactions. Most people were incredibly supportive and kind in what they said: “You are still the champion,” they said, and “That was a great race, in my mind you are the winner.” Some were out and out angry, expressing their disgust with the rule and how unfair it can be: “That is such a stupid rule!” and “I can’t believe they DQ’d you, what an outrage!” Others were oddly sympathetic, offering me words of pity, as though my cat had died: “I’m so sorry for you that you were disqualified.” or “I am really sad for you.”
The best came from the referee who made the call on the DQ who came up to me as I was warming up for the two races I had the next day and just threw up his hands in the air and shrugged and said, “I had to do it! There was no question!” seemingly defending his decision as though I had made a big stink and protested the DQ. He was not apologetic, nor should he have been, but I didn’t particularly care to hear it.
The strange thing was I didn’t really care. Many people commented on how calm I appeared after the fact and one kind person even wrote me these words: “Your response to the unfortunate ‘puck’ incident was the epitome of diplomacy worthy of the Queen of England.” Needless to say this brought a smile to my face. I am human after all though, and I will admit that I unleashed a 30-second rant of rather vocal, profanity-laced frustration in the Canadian locker room. But then just as quickly it all just disappeared and I laughed!! What else could I do? I had three more races that weekend and despite that I had skated the race of my season, one of the very best of my life. No matter what the end result was no one could alter that fact.
Many times I have said that my aim is not to win medals necessarily, but rather aim to achieve that magical feeling of being so in the moment when everything comes together and I feel like I am flying on my skates. I did that in this race and in some ways having the prize removed, by my own fault, left me with only the absolute satisfaction of having achieved the very thing I claim to aim for.
That night back at my apartment I did not wallow in any disappointment, nor harbour any anger towards myself, or the rule, or the ref or anything at all. I felt strangely free and unencumbered by discontent of any magnitude. I simply let it go. I made dinner, sharpened my skates and got ready for the next day. But I did do something else that night that surprised me – I put some music on in my new, partially furnished apartment, full of empty boxes and not much furniture to speak of – and I danced! I danced, badly mind you, by myself to whatever it was that was playing, in whatever way I felt like, just because I felt like it. I’m not prone to such behaviour on a regular basis, and looking back it seems rather odd, but at the time it felt so great, and didn’t have anything to do with anything at all.
I suspect that this whole experience will serve me well in the future; just as the lesson I learned on that bus many years ago came to light once again here. The lesson in all this, one I am sure to remember, is simply to continue along the path I am on, and be confident that what I aim for truly is the ultimate goal. Well that and one more: to not hit the &#!@ing pucks again.