An anon asked me why I love Sami Salo so much. So I wrote an essay on the topic.
There’s a lot of personal stuff in it, about issues a lot of people aren’t comfortable talking about. I thought about not posting it. Then my wonderful baby sis told me too, though she doesn’t exactly know what’s in it. I still wasn’t going to, until I caught a glimpse of my wrist where I can still faintly see the remnants of where I wrote “37” in Sharpie last Tuesday. I thought about Ryp and the personal stuff he went through.
Maybe people should talk about this stuff. Maybe if people felt it was okay to talk about the dark, uncomfortable issues, well, maybe Ryp would still be here.
So here’s my essay about Sami Salo. It’s unedited and painfully honest, but maybe sometimes that’s a good thing.
Vancouver Defensemen Sami Salo is My Absolute Favourite Player
When people find out Sami Salo is my favourite player, their immediate response is usually a look of confusion, followed by a single question. “Why?”
I suppose when you look at me it’s a valid question – or at least one to be expected. What twenty-two year old female hockey fan in her right mind would pick Sami Salo as her favourite when her team holds the likes of Kevin Beiksa, Mason Raymond, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Kesler? (Not that having them as your favourite is bad; I love every single one of them.)
I’ve actually had someone tell me that Sami Salo was a “stupid choice” as my favourite because “he’s not hot.” That was also the girl who couldn’t pronounce her own favourite players’ name correctly. Poor “Toes.”
Sami Salo isn’t my favourite because of his looks. I think he’s adorable and precious and every time I see him smile I want to give him the biggest hug. I wish he were my uncle. He’d be my favourite uncle. I’m very, very close with my aunts and uncles, so wishing for someone to be my uncle is kind of a big deal.
Sami’s my favourite player, because he’s an amazing player and an even more amazing person. His play is fantastic, he has a remarkable hockey sense, he makes smart moves, and good, clean, big hits; he’s brilliant on the penalty kill, he’s (in my slightly biased opinion) irreplaceable as the point man on the power play, he’s one of the best offensive defensemen in the league, his slap shots are jaw-dropping, and the amount of penalties he takes is close to negligible.
If you want proof, just watch the overtime against the Wild yesterday. About two minutes into the overtime, Sami was defending a Wild offenseman (I can’t remember who it was) and instead of taking a penalty to get him off the puck or doing anything that might have risked a penalty, like a poke check turned trip, he just skates in front of him and forces the puck to go for an icing, bringing the faceoff back to the Wild’s end of the ice. The puck never effectively left the Wild’s end of the ice after that. We all know how he ended it two and a half minutes later. His third slap shot of the power play. Even if Backstrom had been able to see it, he couldn’t have stopped it. The puck looked like it wanted to go straight through the net and I’m pretty sure it destroyed that water bottle.
Off the ice, Sami’s kind and calm, smiles easily, always willing to talk when people decide to interview him, he’s quick to give credit to anyone who deserves it except himself, he’s given credit to another player when he was the one who rightly deserved it, he never reacts when a reporter tries to get a response from him by bring up his injuries or how many games he could have played except to shrug and nod, he loves his team and his city enough to “take a haircut” and a humongous one at that because he doesn’t want to go anywhere else, his sense of humour is dryly hilarious, and he wears the best hats ever.
Even more important, though, is his will to persevere. He is an absolute inspiration, not as just a hockey player, though to say he’s not an inspiration as a hockey player would be to discredit everything he’s done, but he’s an inspiration as a person. Look at everything he’s overcome – all the injuries, somewhere over forty of them, ranging from the seemingly normal (for a hockey player) to the just plain bizarre. He hasn’t had to face these injuries just as a hockey player, but as a person. And he hasn’t let a single one beat him.
Can you honestly say – with complete certainty – that you would have stood back up time after time after time if you were hit with everything that’s hit him? I can’t.
Sami Salo isn’t just my favourite player. Sami Salo is my hero. Every time I see him, I remember every obstacle that tried to stop him and every time he decided to overcome it. He could have given up, he could have quit – most people probably would have. But he didn’t. He said no, he believed in himself, he said, “I’m stronger than this” and then he proved it.
“I’ve never given up.” – Sami Salo
To be honest, though, it’s still more than all that. And this is where it gets really personal.
Three years ago today, 23 October, 2008, my family and I found out that my dad committed suicide. I was nineteen years old, I was five hours away from home at university, and it was the first semester of my freshman year. Saying that I was completely destroyed doesn’t seem adequate enough to describe it.
Three years ago it was a Thursday and I had just walked in to my now-ex boyfriend’s apartment after my night class for creative writing. The first thing he said was “We need to talk.” I asked if we were breaking up (we’d been having a ‘rough’ patch) and now I wish more than anything that was what it was, especially since he then proceeded to cheat on me with two high school girls. Anyways. He said no and we sat down and he said, “Baby, your dad… Baby, your dad killed himself.” I couldn’t say anything. I don’t know how long I was silent, but he continued talking. “He shot himself in your garage. Your Grampa called me. They didn’t want you finding out alone.”
That was about when I flipped out. I started screaming that it wasn’t funny and I know my dad’s an abusive jerk, but that doesn’t mean he should be making jokes like that because it wasn’t funny. If he wanted to make sick jokes like that, make them about his own dad, not mine. I think I swore and screamed more in that next ten minutes than every woman who went through labour that year combined. His nineteen year old daughter wasn’t worth living for. His sixteen year old son wasn’t worth it. His wife of nearly twenty-one years meant nothing. We weren’t worth living for.
I shut down. I didn’t go to my classes and when I did I just sat there staring blankly ahead of me. The only thing I was even vaguely alive for was Canucks hockey and writing. I couldn’t watch the Maple Leafs, because it hurt too much. I’d never watch another Leafs game with my dad. I was a robot, just blindly walking through my life on autopilot. Then, two months later on New Years Eve, my Grampa, the only dad I’ve ever really had, was diagnosed with cancer after having been sick for several months already. He died a month and a half after that. During all of this, my boyfriend of two years, my best friend, cheated on and then left me because my life was too much drama. It was literally indescribable.
I was five hours away from my family, at a place where I had no friends (it’s very difficult to make friends when your world is falling in on top of you), no support system, and an ever-present ex who wanted to “be my friend.” I had Canucks hockey and writing and that was it.
Sami was already my favourite player and he had been since he was traded to us in ’02. The November right after my dad died, he had two injuries, but I wasn’t really conscious enough of the world at the time to really comprehend them, I guess would be the best way of putting it. I was watching hockey again in December, though. Rather mindlessly watching hockey, but watching it. Sami was boarded and his rib was broken. He missed a dozen or so games. In the playoffs, he tore a muscle during a slap shot (he scored, by the way). That next October, he sprained his knee and the rest of the season held several other minor injuries. Then he had his famous “ruptured testicle” in the playoffs.
By this point, I was fully awake for Canucks hockey, though I still hadn’t watched a Leafs game. The only thing I was alive for was Canucks hockey, the Olympics, and writing. The rest of the time, I existed, but I wasn’t living. And I wasn’t dealing with my dad’s death or my grampa’s. I just let life pass me by. I was never suicidal and, to be honest, I don’t know why I wasn’t. I certainly wasn’t living. Every time I dared to venture out of my little bubble of Canucks and writing that I’d created for myself, I saw exactly how dark my life was and I crawled right back. It was safe there. Even losing to the Blackhawks a second time wasn’t so bad in the safety of my bubble.
Then my bubble cracked. Sami Salo, my favourite player, ruptured his Achilles tendon. The Blackhawks couldn’t do it, a dozen “minor” injures couldn’t do it, but Sami’s Achilles tendon was my bubbles’ Achilles heel. (Yes, I went there. I couldn’t help it. It was too easy.)
I thought I would never see my favourite player play again. I thought his career was over. My bubble wasn’t safe anymore. Maybe I was just in too dark of a place, but nothing could convince me that Sami would ever play the game again. None of the media releases about his progress did anything.
That semester finally accomplished what four semesters utter lack of caring about my classes had been threatening: I was academically suspended for one semester.
It might have been the best thing possible to happen to me.
I went home. I went back to my mum and my little brother and my aunts and uncles and my friends’ parents. I went back someplace safe. And for the first time in two years, I didn’t need my bubble, not that I could have gone back to it if I had wanted to.
Then I got into a fight. The fight was with a family friend who felt she had the right to treat me the way my father did. She felt she had the right to essentially tell me I was worthless. And I said no. I stood up for myself. I said I took nineteen years of that and worse from my father and I wasn’t going to take it from her any longer.
That scene in The Lion King where Rafiki clobbers Simba with his walking stick and Simba finally realizes that he’s worthy of being king and he has to go back and save his kingdom? This fight was that to me. Except I’m not a talking lion, I’m not a queen and I didn’t have to save a kingdom. I just had to save myself.
But I’d finally realized I was worth it.
Getting from that realization to where I am now, to actually being happy, was a lot harder than I thought it would be. There was a lot of climbing up and feeling good and then falling back down again. Sometimes, it didn’t seem worth it. I just felt like throwing my hands up in surrender and just forgetting everything.
And then Sami played again. 4 February 2011. He played his first game after the surgery on his Achilles tendon and scored two goals.
If he could come back from everything trying to hold him down, so could I. Every time I thought it wasn’t worth it, I thought about Sami and everything he’s fought through. If he could do it, I could do it.
Now, after everything he’s been through, after every dragon telling him he couldn’t do it, he’s playing better than ever before. And me? It was hard and it took a long time and there were a lot of painful issues to deal with, but now I can honestly say that I have never been happier in my entire life than I am right now.