While walking on the treadmill this morning at my local YMCA, I caught an interview on a nearby flat screen TV of T.J. Oshie. In case you haven't heard, he's the 27-year-old American hockey player who in the Winter Olympics beat the Russians over the weekend by scoring four goals in an overtime shoot-out including the game-winner for a 3-2 victory.
Last Friday, virtually no one in America knew who he was outside hockey circles. Now between 200 million and 300 million Americans probably do, along with at least several million Russians including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who attended the game. Since his heroics, the native
of Minnesota has been bombarded with avalanches of new social media Twitter followers and other benefits prompted by instant national fame. During the interview today, a husband Tweeted on the show that his wife would like to leave him and marry T.J.
To which the blue-eyed T.J. said: "I'm not that cool."
Yes you are, T.J., and one of the reasons is responding in that humble way when you could be cocky. This is one of those times when America wouldn't mind a little arrogance but you remained low-key and have repeatedly applauded your goalie's great play and the talents of your
After he said this, I started to cry. These were tears of joy for a guy who is having his moment of glory. He went from a good NHL hockey player known mainly within the confines of his sport, to being an American hero, the answer to a forthcoming Trivial Pursuit question, a certain upcomin "Tonight Show" guest, a teenage girl heartthrob, a man this nation will always appreciate and embrace the rest of his life.
I cried for two reasons. First because it was refreshing to hear on the morning show an upbeat story, something about an American doing well in the clutch. Make no mistake: the pressure to
make all those shoot-out goals rested squarely on his shoulders and he did the delicious deed. So often morning TV news shows inundate us with stories of war atrocities, car accident victims, and political scandals. This story ran antithetical to those.
The second reason was I thought about T.J. growing up spending, no doubt, most of his life either playing hockey, traveling to hockey games, or thinking about hockey.
Can you imagine how many times in his life T.J. practiced those shoot-out shots he made on Saturday? To develop such a rarified skill, to be able to manipulate the puck so fast and so deftly, wielding the forehand, backhand, the slight hesitation move, takes thousands of hours of practice. When he worked on this craft all those years, he was most likely in a rink by himself or with a few other players and no one was watching except maybe his parents or coaches. Who goes to hockey rinks to watch kids practicing shooting the puck if they're not involved in the hockey world?
Hours and hours and hours and hours. That's how long it took him. And then more hours and hours and hours and hours. At his nearby pond he practiced some more and probably in front of a mirror in his house or in his basement.
He may have enjoyed the relentless practicing most of the time, or at least some of the time. But I bet there were plenty of times when shooting a hockey puck bored him, when he didn't want to go the rink and instead wanting to play video games or go to the movies with his non-hockey
friends. I bet there were lots of instances when got tired of practicing his shot, when he had heard too many times from his coach that he had the talent to be a professional hockey player. The pressure that got placed on him to reach his lofty potential, given his natural talent and potential, was ceaseless, I imagine. At times I bet he wished he didn't have so much potential so people would stop telling him he did so he wouldn't have to practice so much to achieve his highest potential. It's wearing on the mind and body.
The pressure to perfect those shoot-out shots was constant. The skill would be, if he worked at the craft enough, his ticket to the NHL. There, all the childhood sacrifices he made playing hockey would pay off with a handsome salary and nice living for himself and his family. He is
engaged and has a baby on the way.
T.J. probably loved hockey as a kid. I have been struck over the years to hear about grade school and high school hockey players and how passionate they are. There's something about hockey that's emotionally powerful in a positive way, seemingly more so than most other sports. They can't' get enough and play and play. There is an adreneline rush to hockey that most other sports don't seem to offer.
But even so, I bet there are times when it's a bore and practicing gets dull and tedious. My conjecture is T.J. experienced plenty of those days when he questioned whether living at a hockey rink virtually his whole life was worth it. He wondered, as so many people do who invest so much of their lives to excel at one thing, if there would ever be a day when it would all be worth it.
T.J. no longer has to wonder. On Saturday, he got his answer and it extended beyond what he could have imagined. His unique and world-class kill at scoring goals in a shoot-out did much more than win a hockey game and put his name into the American history books forever.
He lifted the spirits of his entire country, gave them hope, brought them joy. In an American winter of exceedingly cold weather, T.J. warmed us. It could not have been a more welcome warm feeling amid this nation's prolonged deep freeze.
Thank you, T.J., for being your cool self under pressure.