“Can I play goalie?”
“Can I play goalie?”
Mara Yale tells us about her daughter, Mia, an avid ice hockey goalie, and their journey in making the sport inclusive for Mia.
As we drove to hockey one evening the summer of the COVID-19 shutdown, my eleven-year-old daughter Mia’s first time on the ice since March, she asked:
“What kind of stroke did I have?”
“An ischemic stroke, that means a clot.”
“Is there a difference between strokes caused by a clot or a bleed?”
“I think so, but it depends on the stroke as every stroke is different. Generally, bleeds are worse than clots.”
“Is there a difference between whether a stroke happens when you are a baby or older?”
“Yes, when you’re a baby, you haven’t yet learned how to do things, so you can learn a new way. If you’re older, it’s like you have to learn again how to do something you already knew how to do, and it may not all come back.”
“Why do strokes happen in the elderly?”
“Cardiovascular disease can be caused by what you eat or not getting enough exercise, if the arteries narrow.”
“What makes one limb smaller in someone who has had a stroke?”
“Bones grow based on how much they are used, so if one limb is used more than another, it will grow longer than the other.”
Occasionally, she asks questions like these. I think of it like layers building layers of understanding. My ears perked up when she said:
“I think my hand is more open from playing goalie. Remember when my thumb was at a weird angle?”
She showed me later.
I remember. I remember her NICU stay and stroke diagnosis. When she kept her right hand balled in a tight fist starting at four months old, I wondered if she would gain use of “Righty.” I rejected guidance from the physical therapist to put a splint on Righty at twelve months old to force it open.
Instead, I learned about constraint therapy and bimanual play, put a splint on Lefty to give her more time to practice with Righty until she could point, grasp, eat, and play with Righty. I gave stealth massages to the base of her thumb on Righty when I held her hand.
She started skating when she was three, ice hockey when she was four. At five, she asked, “Can I play goalie?”
We scavenged in the equipment room for gloves but none fit her, as she is left-handed so she holds the stick with her left hand and puts the mitt on her right hand, opposite from most goalies. After months of requests, I set aside my own doubts and embraced her enthusiasm.
When she was six, I bought her a pair of goalie gloves. At first, her hands were too small, but she grew and asked for help to do surgery on that mitt, to move the little leather piece that her thumb fit in to make it a bit closer to her hand, allowing her to keep her thumb in place.
By age eight, she was a goalie. Hundreds of times, she has put on her mitt, to catch or deflect pucks. Just putting on the mitt is therapeutic and then she holds it up ready to catch, with her hand in the most functional position where the thumb falls away from the rest of the hand, aided by gravity and her neuromuscular system. The weight of the mitt pushes on the web space between her thumb and the rest of the fingers on her right hand.
When I checked in on her late that summer evening, she was looking at therapeutic hand strengthening exercises while playing with theraputty. She had been doing this privately, and she was happy to invite me in to help brainstorm with her. She is aware of her smaller right arm. She may wish it were different, and she knows that if she wants to have even more function that she needs to work at it. I realized this digital native had already researched and chosen where to start.
When I coach on the ice or from the bench, I get pangs of awe and wonder, seeing Mia as an athlete helping her team win games. I treasure these one-on-one conversations as a window into her emerging sense of self, a glimpse into how she relates to the differences that are as much a part of her as her eye color.
I tear up, grateful that by following my knowledge and wisdom in parenting her, she has such a clear understanding of her agency. From the driver’s seat, pride swelled in my chest along with the tears that still form when I remember the doubts and uncertainty of our early days. Her reflections are even more profound because I have had the great honor to accompany her at every step of this journey.
Mara Yale, PhD, helps children and adults with movement and neurological challenges move better so they may function better. She practices the Feldenkrais Method and Somatic Experiencing in Eastern Massachusetts and online, and she played ice hockey as a child through college.