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​Goaltending for Life

Posted by Heather Krill in Life After Paralysis on October 22, 2021

First published on the Christopher and Dana Reeve Blog…

Soccer practiceSoccer season is a short one here in the North Country of New Hampshire. We have not seen snow yet on our mountains, but they are filled with the reds, golds, and oranges our peak foliage is famous for. Mostly, this fall has been beautiful, a few rainy days here and there, but shorts remain our children’s preferred clothing choice even if mornings are downright chilly. There might not be anything more beautiful than children and “tweenagers” playing soccer, sweating and smiling, maskless, on a lush green field in dappled sunlight after a long day of being masked all day at school.

My husband Geoff and I first became friends on the soccer pitch many years ago, coaching varsity girls when I needed an assistant to work with our goalkeepers. Now, we’ve come full circle again where I’m assisting our daughter’s middle school soccer team, and he comes to practice once in a while to work out the goalkeepers. He didn’t have the patience, oddly, to help me coach our own kids when they were younger and far more uncoordinated, despite him being one of the most patient humans I know. Coaching youth sports is not for everyone, and I know it’s likely taken some years off the end of my life, undoubtedly.

However, when Geoff wheels out onto the field, any athlete, young and adult alike, who works with him immediately falls under his goaltending expertise. At first, they might not believe that he can be a goalkeeping coach from a wheelchair, even though the stories of Geoff throwing himself out of his chair to demonstrate a skill precede him. At first, they might not trust that he can teach them something any other able-bodied coach might teach them. At first, they eye him with the easy suspicion anyone who has worked with tweens recognizes immediately. Then they settle in. They listen. They watch him. They dive for balls. They jump over one another. They drill. They make their muscles remember. They develop muscle memory. They find inner strength they maybe didn’t know existed. They walk off the field thoroughly exhausted, knees ground in with dirt, elbows bruised, and proud.

And here’s the thing. We all remember the coaches in our lives who then changed our lives somehow for the better. We hope for the better, right? Of course, there are those coaches who make a more negative impact than positive, and I’m grateful not to have had too many of those in my lifetime– and even more grateful for the humans who coach our own children over the years in both recreational programs and now as we move into more competitive school sports. Patient, knowledgeable, challenging, they push our children to learn, grow, and be better. I still remember our goalie, who really only wanted to play in the net if we could find her a pink jersey, which we could and did, and that made a difference for her. I remember the young goalkeeper who worked tirelessly and went on to get her Ph.D. in wildlife biology and the one whose family literally never missed a soccer game, likely in her whole life, no matter the weather or how far they had to drive. Here in the north country, some games take over two hours by bus on one-lane roads, seemingly taking forever to reach.

And these kids he coaches– whether from our own community or the ones around us who hire him to work with their goalkeepers because they are able to recognize the gift he gives to young people– will remember him. They will remember their own resiliency and work ethic and determination, long after October soccer practices end. They will know how and when to “dig deep”- as my dad cheered loudly relentlessly from the sidelines- when they need to in other aspects of growing up. Our son loves his middle school goalie coach, Coach Joe. It’s probably good that Geoff isn’t coaching his own son in the net at this age. They practice together in the front yard, of course, and Geoff is always willing to lend advice or suggestions, but our kid responds really well to being coached by other people. Early in my recreational career, I learned that I would be available to help whenever needed, but our kid was better for other people on the field. He worked harder and whined less. Coach Joe is incredible with our kid, pushes him hard and uses encouraging words; he gives our son what he needs to thrive. His confidence is fantastic, and, for the moment, that is enough.

Heather Ehrman Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 11 and 10, respectively. Please check out her novel True North, website www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, and @heatherkrill1 on Twitter.

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