Going out on top

In Sports /

By Taylor Lambert

It was one year since I had been diagnosed with malaria and hepatitis on Sunday. On what should have been a wonderful anniversary, my mind was entangled with a whole new set of sticky situations.

Between leukemia, restraining orders, and the sad realization I have to leave Ryerson, a chippy game of hockey was the least of my worries.

The first thing on my mind was an ailing alumnus from my high school of Notre Dame. The boarding school in Saskatchewan has produced many hockey legends like Wendel Clark and Russ Courtnall. It’s also been home to some incredibly talented female hockey stars, most notably Mandi Schwartz.

Although our age gap kept me from ever playing beside Mandi, we share a deep connection. Like me, she is battling a deadly disease. For her, it is leukemia, and for the past year-and-a-half she has been battling for her life. Recently, she underwent a stem cell transplant in a final effort to save her life.

A successful transplant requires a 10-out-of-10 match from donor to recipient. After a year of searching, Mandi could only find a 9-out-of-10 match.

In a true do-or-die situation, they went ahead with the surgery. As I sat lacing my skates, my mind trailed off thinking about how she was doing.

It is times like these when you realize that all those people who say hockey is just a game have no idea what they are talking about. In many ways, it is life. It is a reason to wake up every morning and continue to fight. Moments and events will tear us away from the game, but a true athlete fights with all they have to return.

The strength that Mandi has showed throughout her illness inspired me to keep fighting through mine. Even though I now had a clean bill of health, I was still drawing on her experience to deal with a very difficult personal problem of my own.

After weeks of silent feuding at home, things just couldn’t be kept silent any longer: my parents were officially divorced.

Divorce is a reality one too many children face, and it was something I had to deal with. As much as I would like to imagine myself as mature beyond my years, I’ve only just turned 17. In university two years earlier than I should be, playing competitive hockey, and trying to hold a family together miles away from home, it was almost too much for me to bear.

My parents had put restraining orders on each other, making it impossible for them to come to my games at the same time. It’s difficult to have them out of such an important part of my life.

I had been living with my father and his girlfriend(s) in order to attend Ryerson. On the outside I appeared indifferent, but I was tired of constantly being alone and taking care of my dad’s dog while he spent late nights out with his many “friends”.

I felt as if I was taking care of my dad, cooking, cleaning, caring for his dog, running all the errands, and taking whatever energy I had left not to yell at him for the things he has done and said.

I wanted to study journalism so badly though, and I wanted to be a Stinger even more.

I kept smiling and just tried to take it one day at a time. My mom could hear it in my voice that I wasn’t the same bubbly little girl anymore. My university experience was no longer fun and exciting. I was at a loss of what to do, but apparently that’s for lawyers to sort out.

The courtroom circus decided it was time I become a teenager and live with my mother. With a divorce financially draining our family and no way of commuting from Kitchener to Toronto each day, I realized I had to leave Ryerson.

Although thankful to leave my uncomfortable living situation, being forced out of the game once again was too much.

I had found a family at Ryerson. Under no circumstances would I ever want to leave the Stingers voluntarily. But if Mandi has taught me anything, it is that teams rally and support each other.

I hope my team forgives me for leaving; they really meant everything to me here at Ryerson. I wish them all the luck in the world as they continue their unbeaten streak. Hockey aside, they are all amazing people and I am thankful to have had them in my life.

I know now I have a family in Toronto, but I have realized that you are never too old to come home, and never too old to need your mom.

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