The day I met the Belfast Giants
(by Karen, aged 54¾)
I'm going slightly off topic this time. I make no apologies, folks, because I simply have to write about what happened last Saturday (16 September) as it was pretty special. It also happened because of my breast cancer diagnosis. Please indulge me!
I got a message on Friday night from Adam Keefe, the Head Coach of the Belfast Giants ice hockey team. He had previously been commenting on some of my Facebook posts about my cancer treatment. But on this occasion, he was inviting me personally to come along to see the optional training skate the next morning and to meet the team. He apologised for it being short notice. Short notice?! I would have cancelled anything to go!
I started to panic. A million things were running through my head. What would I wear? Should I wear a hat or my wig? Should I wear my Giants sweatshirt or a game jersey? Would I get all tongue tied and not know what to say to them? Would I be able to keep my hands steady to pencil in my eyebrows properly?
I knew I was also going to meet them looking like a stereotypical cancer patient rather than my normal self. That did make me feel a bit sad.
The next morning I met the lovely Laura outside the VIP door at the SSE Arena, who took me to meet Adam. He showed me his office (Laura and I told him it that it really needed to be painted teal rather than white), the officials rooms, the Giants lounge area and then he took me into the dressing room where many of the Giants were either exercising or getting prepared for the training. Adam checked to make sure they were all decent first of course (they were, dammit).
The friendly Giants
Adam introduced me to the team, gave me a year book and then I went round and chatted to them all. They were sooooo lovely. I talked to some of the new guys about how they were settling into the team and Northern Ireland generally and I chatted to the ones who had been with the team for a while. They were all so easy to talk to and really, really friendly.
Some of the Belfast Giants
I was able to watch the players train from the edge of the ice. Being so close to the action, I could get a real sense of the speed at which they skate and the power behind their shots. I got given pucks and then had more photos taken with them as they came off the ice.
By this stage I was getting a bit overwhelmed by all the excitement and was all fingers and thumbs. I said to Laura that I couldn't believe that, as a mature woman, I was getting on like this. It seems I'm not alone. Apparently there are men, considerably older than me, who often run across the arena car park to catch up with a Giant.
Me with Blair Riley, the Captain
Spiro the survivor
I also met one of the new guys on the team - Spiro Goulakos - who had cancer a few years ago. We talked about our treatments and how Spiro had handled chemo (he even managed to play a few games during treatment - that is AMAZING). It was lovely to talk to him about his experience of being a cancer survivor.
Me and Spiro
The final bit of excitement was that I got to sit on a Zamboni (a vehicle which cleans and smooths the ice). Another ambition fulfilled!
Adam gave me a great big hug as I said goodbye. As the former team captain he was fearless and ferocious on the ice but it is clear Adam has a very big heart indeed.
Me and Adam
It was such a special morning. I adored every minute of it. I love this team even more than ever. They make Belfast proud and I am so proud to be a supporter.
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