My Old Pair of Skates

by Bob Shewchuk

I grew up in Cochenour, (population 500) in the Red Lake District of Ontario. When I was 3 my family had a construction company that was not doing very well.  Then, when my 4 year old brother was run down, our business went from bad to worse. Understandably, the loss was very hard on my parents, my two other brothers and my sister.  Although my parents worked hard at it, we struggled to keep the business afloat. As my parents both worked 10-14 hour days, 7 days a week, my brother and sister used to babysit me. They would take me to the arena across the street when they had hockey practice or figure skating.  I became the terror around the arena because I was unsupervised.

After a couple of years hanging around the arena I got my first break in life. I was running by one of the locker rooms when a gentleman named Stew Reid, who was the Manager at the Campbell Red Lake mine, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and said, “Here’s some skates and equipment, you show up at our next practice.”  Even though I was a year too young to play, he must have thought I had a lot of energy that could be redirected to something positive. Stew knew my Dad and it was probably his small way of helping out my parents by keeping me off the street and out of trouble. Stew Reid became my first coach and continued to be one of my mentors over the years.

At age 11 I went to work on a crusher in our saw mill for several summers, which was hard labor. It was common to work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week for most of the summer and also on weekends during the winter in -30 degree weather.  I hated it because sometimes I would have to miss hockey or baseball practice, but I never missed games. The only thing that was good about work at that time was it let me start buying my own clothes instead of wearing hand-me-downs.

High School hockey was great.  It was like AAA Midget/Junior hockey in Northwestern, Ontario because it was the only high level hockey they had to offer at that time.  Our coach, Bob Nazar, was a tough, mean old school coach and he worked us hard. We didn’t always like that part, but it helped to build our character. He also taught us how to win with pride and lose with dignity which we appreciate today.   In our last year of high school, our team finally won the only hockey championship in the history of our high school. We really beat the odds since we only had a small population compared to the rest of our competition and it has become a lasting memory and experience for all the players from that team because of the hard work and determination it took to win.

When I finished high school, I had to go to work for a year in our construction company to save enough money for college.  Our family struggled along and I continued to play a variety of sports but more importantly I became the Recreation Director for the area and started to coach. I realized at that time what had gotten me to this point in my life. I began to pay closer attention to kids in need and continue to do so today. If it wasn’t for an old pair of skates and the opportunity given to me when I was just 5 years old, I may never have acquired the focus and passion for something I liked. Many kids don’t get the same chance because their parents cannot afford the expense.

The other important factor in my life was my Dad taught me how to work hard.  Despite the hard work and long hours I eventually came to understand that it was a good thing. These days it is not acceptable to be in the workforce at a young age but I believe any youngster who is given a chance to play a sport like hockey and who learns to work hard in school can accomplish many things.

With my own kids over the last 15 years, hockey has been their main sport. Through the Trails West organization my oldest daughter Chelsea started to play Tyke hockey in 1997. Her sister Brittany followed in 1999.  Luke and Bobbi began playing in 2002 and 2003 respectively, and joined Coach Bill in Learn to Skate.  After Trails West, Chelsea and Brittany went on to play girls AAA Midget and Brittany thereafter went on to play CIS hockey at Queen’s University.   Luke went on to play for the Calgary Royals AAA Minor Midget team.  My kids have had the opportunity to play hockey throughout Canada, in the U.S. and in Europe.  The sport has kept them busy doing positive and constructive things over the years and they all have had a great time playing hockey.  Their main focus is now on their academics. My wife, who also comes from a modest background, and I have always encouraged our children to work hard in school.

During the past 15 years my wife and I have raised a considerable amount of money through our own personal donations and the corporate sponsors we are associated with.  We did this to help some kids enjoy the game of hockey and in hope that they would be able to take a better path.  We truly believe hockey develops well rounded individuals through team work, the work required to excel in the game and the social experience around the game.

Combine all this with working hard in school and it leads to success sooner or later in life.   It did for us and we are fortunate to be able to give something back to the sport of hockey.  We would also like to thank the Trails West organization including all the coaches, managers and other volunteers who have done a great job with our four children.  I am sure there are many other parents with similar stories who worked hard, played hard and are successful today.  I know that if my Dad had not passed on his work ethic to me, and if a caring and insightful person like Stew Reid had not given me that old pair of skates and worn out hockey pants with wooden slats for protection, my path could have been much different. My family and I greatly appreciate the opportunity to do the same for others.