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Memoir: Momentum

How hockey kept me moving forward.


The following was used as my Common App essay for my undergraduate applications.

I have an absolute aversion to acceleration.

I’ve always hated that moment- the moment when the world around me starts to whirl and blur, the moment when I have to trust myself enough to lose control. This fear has been ever present throughout my life, marring everything from simple bike rides through the neighborhood to sibling sled rides down our steep backyard snowdrifts. Perhaps most notably, my fear of speed led to the demise of my childhood love of figure skating. It’s difficult to spin or jump if one is terrified of gaining momentum, running into things, and falling onto the hard ice.

Once, when I was untying my skates at the end of a lesson, an uncle suggested that I try ice hockey. He was grinning as he told me how much he’d loved it when he was my age- how proud he’d been when he’d lost his first tooth. I declined this suggestion. After all, I was rather attached to my teeth, physically and emotionally. If my uncle had known me at all, he’d have understood that the last place I belonged was on the ice during a fast-paced hockey game, probably being slammed by guys half my size with thirty times my aggression. If I was afraid of falling when doing turns on figure skates, how could I handle the speed and aggression that characterized this sport?

Times changed. I outgrew ice skating and burned through tennis, swimming, karate, and track. Nothing came as easily to me as creative writing, so I abandoned these hobbies, tossing them into the past and resolving to move forward. Years later, I would finally realize I was only standing still.

My sophomore year of high school, I looked into the mirror and saw a person defined by what he couldn’t do. I’d carved myself out of heavy, unforgiving stone, keeping my shape simple as I focused on what I knew. I was missing so many of life’s complexities. For a moment I stepped away from this image of myself, considered a garish orange poster I’d seen earlier that day in the school hall, and made what should have been an unthinkable decision.

This was how I came to stand on the ice, muscles screaming, lungs burning, cold air biting at my face. I was at my first hockey practice, and I was far from a natural. On hockey skates, weighed down by secondhand gear loaned from a player’s brother, I skated clumsily and ineffectively, struggling to maintain balance as I half-stepped, half-glided across the ice. I was overheating and drenched with sweat— I’d never felt so wet before and I used to swim. “It’s worse if you stop moving,” another player advised me, as if I had any semblance of control over my movements in this frozen layer of Hell. As I skated and skated, sweat accumulated around my eyes in an ironic facsimile of tears.

As I stripped my soggy equipment off in the locker room, watching my breath billow out in puffs of mist before me, I realized I wanted to do this again. There was no real reason. Nothing big had changed. I’d just had fun, which was probably the most surprising thing. So I kept going, because I didn’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. I didn’t have to stay where I felt comfortable to be myself. I didn’t have to shape myself out of stone; I could be water and ice. I could ebb and flow and rediscover myself; I could be more than one thing.

The other day, I arrived early to practice. I stepped onto the empty ice, hit a puck back and forth, and took a deep breath. I took everything I’d learned, ran it through a few times in my head, and sprinted across the ice. The world blurred around me, and I smiled.

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