Part 3 by Naomi Grigg

naomi-6For a few months I had noticed another similarly aged girl at the same sessions as I went to. She didn’t speak to anyone either, and wore ice hockey skates too. She was doing the same things as me and I often thought of how great it would be to be her friend. I never did speak to her though and months later during one of the ultra quiet lunchtime sessions she came up to me and paid me the greatest compliment I think I had ever received. “Excuse me, do you play ice hockey?”. I was blown away completely and gushed something crap like “No! no… why, are you? I thought you were” whilst trying to keep my cool and not nervous giggle like the social incompetent that I was. She replied with “Oh I thought you were because you’re really good! What’s your name anyway – I’m Cheri”. We still joke about that conversation when we see each other when I travel west to see her every year or two.

I get much bigger compliments nowadays, and they all leave me feeling good, especially when someone says that I inspired them in the way that skaters I’ve seen have inspired me, but most of them are telling me things I sort of suspected anyway. But back when I met Cheri, I was a 16 year old with little confidence and still felt like a bit of an embarrassment on skates, who had in one moment become someone that another skater looked up to.

Cheri and I skated together for years, teaching and learning off each other & joyously telling each other when they looked “f**kin’ ace, man!”.

One day we were sat up in the little fast food area overlooking the rink between session, watching the Swindon Wildcats icehockey team train. They were pretty much the Gods back then, to us they were like the Beckhams of the skating world. I’d only ever sneered at the idea of inlines, so these guys were as good as it got – we’d swap stories about people we knew who had once spoken to one of them. As we looked down, Cheri goes “hey you know what, Nai, I’d love to have a go at ice hockey – we should go to that beginners thing they do at weekends” and suddenly we had a future that might result in being slightly cool and respected – the Swindon Topcats were at the top of the British Womens Ice Hockey League, and we could become one of them…

Or not, as it seemed during our first beginners session. There we were, towering over the kids at what I think was basically the talent-scout pool for the Swindon kids teams, holding sticks and not enjoying my first experiences of wearing a helmet. I couldn’t for the life of me work out how everyone else was able to balance or coordinate themselves with these itchy and uncomfortable contraptions on their heads. I had lost all ability to do cross overs without tripping, let alone aim a stick at a puck. It was so humiliating, and I became more and more flustered as the session wore on. I was convinced the trainer and the other kids were wondering what the hell I was doing there.

naomi-2The next weeks session was slightly better, and they got progressively better over a couple of months. Towards the end of that period, Cheri was rarely able to attend, and one session I realised that there was someone else my age and gender at the session – I launched myself over immediately to introduce myself before anyone else had a chance to pair up with her for the first drill. She had all the gear and looked really pro – she had a Wayne Fiddis replica shirt over her kit, who was pretty much the youngest and most fanciable Wildcat at the time. Her name was Cressida and I felt so lucky to be paired up with her.

Cressida had already been scouted by the manager of the Topcats and was due to join them in a couple of weeks, and we went on became best friends, skating and clubbing together and ended up sharing a flat years later whilst at universities in Manchester. Last year I bought the skates that she wore that day, after 10 years of coveting them – they were some Micron Mega Airs that she had bought 2nd hand for about twice as much as mine had cost brand new. I recently lent them to a friend and found myself protectively lecturing her about how to treat the blade (from me, who only ever sharpened mine about once a year).

A week or two later I was skating at a Saturday morning session and a guy who had been stumbling around all lesson clambered up to me and called for my attention. Turns out the manager of the Topcats couldn’t skate all that well. Had he actually been at any of the beginners hockey sessions that I’d attended, I’m confident that this meeting would never have arisen, but he’d seen some girl pelting around the rink, crossing over, skating backwards, and female ice hockey skaters that actually skate, as opposed to ‘flirt whilst on skates’ can be quite thin on the ground. I said I had already tried hockey at the beginners session and he was positively delighted, convinced that so long as I could skate well, I could become a good ice hockey player. Unfortunately he underestimated my awesome lack of potential in the hockey department.

Months later he was still convinced that in time I’d make a ‘good little defence player’ because of my backwards skating ability. That time never came…

I think I was with the Topcats for nearly 2 years before throwing in the towel – I did actually score one time when playing against Oxford University. It was a dream goal, where I lunged in at the last moment to flick in a puck that had rebounded off the Goalie. I couldn’t even flick a puck in practice. The shock of the rest of the team was hilarious. The idiot girl had scored. Yes I had.

I always felt such an embarrassment alongside the others – we had more than our fair share of GB players, and the others were all much more socially confident than I was. It didn’t help that I had a really posh accent from boarding school, and also training was 12am til 1.30am on a Sunday night, so I had to get up at an insane hour on Monday mornings to get to school on time. Those were some mad times.

During those years I got to travel around so many different ice rinks for matches, and would often stay on with Cressida to skate their evening session afterwards. It was pretty funny when we did – the other rinks didn’t seem to be as good at tricks as we were, and pulling out the grapevine would always have the locals getting a bit funny.


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