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A teenager asked if he could talk to me privately. I of course said yes, and sent the other kids away to play on the football pitch so I could have a chat with him. He told me his father had died a few years ago in an accident and that the kids in his class were bullying him because he didn’t have a dad. Shocking I know, but kids can be so cruel. He went on to say that he tried to kill himself so that he could be with his dad as he missed him so much. The teenager had tears rolling down his cheeks. It completely broke me, although I didn’t let it show as I’m meant to be the Councillor. It took every ounce of strength I had not to break down in front of the child. I wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be okay, but I couldn’t. There are strict rules at Camp Buckskin for my safety as well as the childs, but I knew right then what I had to do. I would guide him to the right path. I knew then I had made the right decision last year to come and work with special needs children.


It was a cold December day in Japan 2016 where the Para Ice Hockey World Championships were taking part. Great Britain had got themselves in to the bronze medal game against Slovakia. Whoever won this game and got the bronze medal would advance to the Winter Paralympic Qualifiers in Italy the following year and then had a chance to play in Korea at the Winter Olympics. The loser would be going home to lick their wounds and try again in another four years time.

By the end of the 1st Period we were 2-0 down, but not out of it yet. Into the 2nd Period we went with our heads held high. I was chasing the puck down in my own defensive zone when the boards started to rush towards me at a freighting pace, almost like a parachutist getting ground rush. I lost my blade on the ice as I turned to pick up the puck and crashed into the boards with an echoing thump. I knew instantly I had broken my back… again!


After the accident, I needed to take a year out of sport to recover, but I also knew I needed to fill it with something meaningful, like a dream job. I did some research and I landed on becoming a Councillor at a summer camp in the States. By early 2017 I was applying for jobs all over America when I received an email from a place called Camp Buckskin in Northern Minnesota. It was a small family run camp that helped special needs and vulnerable children find their place in life with lots of structure and sports while also helping them learn how to cope with their conditions, whatever they were. Before I knew it I was scheduling the first of three skype interviews with the Program Director Umaga (nickname).


After three very long interviews Umaga told me I had been offered the job as a cabin councillor. I knew with my life experiences I had plenty to offer Camp Buckskin and couldn’t wait to get started helping children realise their potential. This time last year I was packing my bags and making sure I had my passport and a sense of adventure and was ready to get to work doing what would probably be one of the hardest jobs I would do post Army

.

I landed in Minnesota and cleared customs, but only after reassuring the man behind the desk with, no sense of humour that I was not coming to marry an American girl. I met up with some other Camp Councillors and headed straight to the bus depot for a three hour bus ride to Duluth where we would be picked up by Camp Staff. Some of us had been travelling all day so it was fast food and then a further two hour drive till we got to camp. It was already late in the evening and darkness had descended upon us as we drove through thick woodland that made it seem that much darker and quite eerie as the mist rolled in on some low lying roads. Out of the gloom we saw a sign that read, “Camp Buckskin” and an arrow directed us down a smaller dirt track.

This Camp was literally in the middle of nowhere and at night it was scary. To make matters worse we were told not to walk beyond the perimeter into the woods as there were three local wolf packs roaming around the area, not to mention a bear attack a few years back.

A few minutes later I was dropped off at my cabin, shown where the ablutions were and given a timing for breakfast if I wanted it. Being in the military I got my sleeping bag out and dived straight in it before realising I needed the toilet. There was no way I was going to venture out into the darkness so I held on till the morning.


I woke up at about 07:00 on a bed the army would have been proud to call their own. The sun was already above the horizon giving it an orange tint that actually made it look like a fiery ball in the sky. I was in a cabin with another bed opposite me and a door that led into the main part of the cabin where there were four bunk beds just about suitable for the kids to sleep on. The cabin was pretty basic, a bed and an open cubby hole next to it for some clothing. I loved it, it was my kind of wilderness. There was no signal on the phone and I couldn't hear any vehicles. All I could hear was the singing of birds and of course the bugs dive bombing me at every opportunity. They were everywhere. I mean we were in the land of 10,000 lakes and that attracted swarms of blood sucking bugs that needed to feed… well, we were the only real source of food for them, but luckily I had my 100% Deet Mosquito Repellent to bathe in. The kids kept telling me I would get cancer if I sprayed myself with 100% Deet, but I told them at least I would be a bug free cancer patient.

Over the next 10 days the Supervisors put a lot of time and dedication in to making sure we were ready for the arrival of all the kids. We went over scenarios where supervisors played the child and we acted as the councillor, reacting to whatever we found in front of us. The scenarios ranged from children running off into the woods or fights breaking out or even fraternisation between children. Most of it was common sense, however these days common sense can be quite hard to find. As soon as you say, “This is a test” people seem to panic and figuratively throw common sense out the window. By the end of the 10 days all of us were as ready as we were ever going to be. The supervisors paired us off with another staff member for the in-cabin councillors as there was always two to a cabin. I couldn’t have been happier with my co-councillor Pac-Man (nickname). He was from Northern Ireland and really looking forward to helping with the kids, but the most important thing was… he didn’t snore. I could get a decent night sleeps without having to throw all my shoes at him.


On arrival the kids had to hand over all their electrical items like cell phones, mp3 players and any game systems. They were completely technology free and the only way for them to communicate with the outside world was through writing a letter. We encouraged them to write at least one letter a week to their parents, but they could write more if they wanted to. One of the younger kids wrote to his parents saying Camp Buckskin was like a prison and he hated it there. Then he went on to say that he hated his parents for sending him there and they couldn’t possibly love him because they sent him to a prison. Add in a few ‘F’ bombs and you have yourself a very interesting letter. I think we sent it anyway, but rang his parents just to let them know a sternly worded letter was on its way.

Finally, the kids arrived and Pac-man and I were quite nervous, but luck would have it that most of the kids in our cabin had attended before. The first night was a night I would never forget. By 21:30 the kids were all in bed and the lights were out. Both of us looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief as we collapsed on to our beds in a heap. I looked in the mirror and saw a face that looked like it had been held captive for a few months, and it was only day one. I washed, showered and got back to the cabin and went straight into my sleeping bag. With day one under my belt I said to myself how hard could this actually be.

“Arrrgh! Arrrgh! Arrrgh!” I sat bolt upright dazed and confused for a second or two. My co-councillor had done the same and we looked at each other trying to figure out what was happening in the kids cabin. I rushed out of bed and stood by the inner door bracing myself for a scene of carnage. I thought, had a bear or a wolf entered without us seeing it? Or was one of the other kids trying to hurt another child. I picked up one of my walking poles and looked at Pac-Man in a way that said, “You ready?” without actually saying it. He nodded, so I kicked open the door like I was doing room clearance drills back in Iraq. I cautiously made my way into the cabin with the walking pole in a baseball stance ready to fight off the wild animal that was attacking my kids. On entering the room, I saw no wild animal attacking anybody nor did I see a child out of bed. In fact, they were all asleep. I could see nothing out of place other than us standing in the middle of the cabin with puzzled looks on our faces. I couldn’t hear any sniggers or kids pretending to sleep. I was perplexed. We both withdrew from the cabin and back to our beds. I sat on my bed just to calm myself down a little and then laid my head on the pillow and I was asleep again. I woke up in the morning and had a confab with Pac-Man just to make sure last night’s antics weren’t a dream. He confirmed it wasn’t. When it was time to wake the kids up we spoke to them about the incident. It transpired that one of the kids screams in his sleep quite regularly throughout the night. It was a relief; however, he could have said something the day before.


Camp Buckskin is not a chain nor is it a franchise. It is a family business run by a lovely couple called Higgins and Hathaway and the love and attention that goes into making the camp what it is comes straight form the heart. This is proven by the fact that Camp Buckskin had so many returners each year, some in fact have been going to the summer camp since they were eight years old. I wish the United Kingdom did summer camps like the US does. We would find a lot more kids learning how to handle life a little better and getting involved in outdoor activities instead of playing on their games consoles. I don’t say this often, but, America has got it right here and we need to follow suit.

I would recommend to anybody and everybody who may be interested in working at a summer camp to take the plunge and sign up no matter what age you are. It will probably be the hardest you have ever worked in your life, but it will be the most rewarding as well. For me, the highlight of the summer was teaching that child to grieve for his father and knowing it was okay to enjoy life again. I watched him grow over the four weeks as he came out of his shell and interacted with the other kids and engaged in the sporting activities. I watched him try new things he had never even thought of trying and when it came to leaving, I knew he was leaving a better person all round. I can’t wait to return the following summer 2019 to help more special needs children find their place in the world. I think I may have found mine.


Thank You Camp Buckskin for an epic summer I will never forget and welcoming me into the Buckskin family.





Till next time folks…


It has been a little under three months since the end of the B Pool World Championships and I have had some time to reflect on our tournament in Berlin as I nurse a minor injury to my bicep and shoulder. They say, ‘Get everything into the open and let the sunlight be the disinfectant’ can be a way to unburden yourself of your troubles. Also, someone once said, “There is a silver lining in everything.” Even if you have to look deep, deep down it will be there. I hope by the end of this blog I would have found said silver lining as so far one seems to have eluded me.


Post 2016 Japan Worlds the GB squad took a break due to injuries and not having enough players to form a squad so the step was taken to go on hiatus, which I must agree was the right idea and something we needed. 2017 the GB squad was back on the ice and the classroom with a new zest for life and a much needed change in mindset and body. This was the first time I saw the squad act like a team and gel together both on and off the ice. Athletes were chasing each other up for training updates and swapping ideas for off-ice training and more importantly it was working. It was spurring people on to do more and beat each other’s times on that particular piece of apparatus, thus making us fitter and stronger than any other tournaments I have been to.


So why did we, the GB Squad, fail to stay in Pool B with all this new found training and mindset? Well as anybody who plays sport and a top level will tell you, if you’re not moving forward you are essentially going backwards. The year out, even though it was much needed, put us a giant step back while the rest of Pool B carried on moving forwards. So before we even got on the ice we were at a disadvantage to all the other teams. Then you have the countries who are fully funded and paid athletes, so essentially all they do is eat, sleep and play hockey. To put it into contexts it like Basildon Athletic playing Manchester United. It’s not about if you will lose, it’s about how much you will lose by and the likes of Poland and Great Britain cannot compete against those fully funded countries.


We are completely self-funded and reliant on the generosity of the Great British public and businesses who donate by way of branded kit like hockey jerseys and team kit. A huge thank you has to go to company’s the likes of Kappa UK, Mowbray Sports, PLS Solicitors and We Are Victory Hockey to name just a few. We have had way more Social Media this time and all done by our very own Matt Woollias who at times, I bet, didn’t want to post the scores and try to be impartial so another thanks to him for everything he did. The supporters who came out to Berlin were amazing and a huge thanks to them for coming all the way from the UK to cheer us on.


We had lost every game leading up to the Poland match, which was to be expected, but it was the number of goals we lost by that was disappointing for us and it will be something to address for the next tournament. We targeted Poland knowing we had to beat them to stay in Pool B. The first period we had most of the play and pressured them into making mistakes that lead to us going a goal up on Poland. However, Poland came back at us and managed to get a cheap goal along the ice to go 1-1 a pretty soft goal if you ask me that should have been stopped. With more pressure put on Poland we got another goal making it 2-1. Before we could see out the first period we made some mistakes of our own and a great shot from the Blue line put Poland level with us. The second period I think we again had most of the pressure and it was only down to the polish net minder pulling of some incredible saves that denied us a further few goals. Going into the third period it was make or break. It was hard and a well fought period of hockey, however it would be Poland that would come out on top with a third goal in the last three minutes of play making it 3-2. This put us under a vast amount of pressure, but we needed to attack and get a goal so we could take it either into extra time or take an outright win. Well this time the chips did not fall on our side and Poland came out the victors with a 3-2 score line. This was a game we could have won and should have won. Poland were not great and a few extra players and a second net minder and we would have won I think.


At the end of the Poland game I got off the ice quite disheartened and as I got out of my sledge I heard this soft female voice call out, “Jonathon” I looked up and saw my Japanese interpreter who stayed by my side while I was in hospital after breaking my back in the 2016 Japan Worlds. She came out to Berlin to see me and it put a much needed smile on my face after such a devastating loss.


To say we were all disappointed is a great understatement, everybody was seething in the changing rooms. The mood was sombre, almost funeral like as everyone was deep in their own thoughts, then out of the other side of the room you heard someone play the song ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel and people started to smile and then after a few more other sad songs like REM or Jonny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ we were all breaking out into laughter and adding our own sad songs to the mix. Sometimes it takes a Captain to bring us all out of our funk. So hats off to Tyler #09 for that.


That night was a tough one as the whole game was on a loop in my head, however this time I was saving all of the goals and not making any mistakes. It was frustrating to say the least so my roommate and I went up to the Sauna that evening for some quiet reflection and to debrief the game. We did come up with some home truths and put it down to a few factors that didn’t go in our favour. Even though we lost every game we did come away with a lot of positives to take into the next tournament and that is where I think the silver lining is for us. Sometimes to advance further in sport you have to take a step back and if that means going into Pool C just to show the haters and doubters that we should not be there then that’s what we will do. We will work harder, better and we will get back into Pool B again very soon.


It wasn’t all doom and gloom in the GB camp. Morale has always been high as team mates throw insults at each other and talk about old tournaments where certain people missed the plane or tried to drive over the Pennines in the middle of the night as the deathly cold hand of winter sprinkles a foot or two of snow that stops them in their tracks. It was only funny because they managed to get a flight out the very next day and arrive in time for the start of that tournament. One of the rooms is turned into a football stadium, as someone brought a PS4, where a couple of people are playing FIFA. Everybody is laughing and having fun as we take the piss out of our strikers for missing an open goal. The squad would always spend meal times together as team, which helped with the bonding and made sure people were eating properly. On one occasion we were all on our way back from an Italian restaurant and Matt Woollias decided he would have ago on an Uber Scooter that was left abandon outside the restaurant. Moments later we heard an almighty crash behind us and Woollias was in a heap on the ground next to a local man whose only words in English were, “Not cool, man.” Everybody couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably as our team mate scraped himself off the ground and apologised profoundly to the man he had just wiped out. It’s stories like these that make a team like ours as close as it is today.


We didn’t have the tournament we wanted and yes we got relegated into Pool C, but we now have new players coming through in the January training camp, which means possibly more players to switch up with. We still have the management team in place that will push us further, harder and better than last time. We have things to work on in our personal skating and puck handling. Our off ice training is getting better and we will still push each other to strive for excellence as our place within the GB Squad is never guaranteed and must be worked for every day. We still stand by our ethos where we are the Elite, we have Passion and are United in the wins, but more importantly the defeats. Before we went on the ice for each game we banged our sticks on the sides and flooring in unison, which made a heck of a racket. Each team manager said it was intimidating just listening to it, almost like the Zulu’s banging their drums behind the hill before going into battle. I don’t care what team you are, it will be intimidating and off putting. Some battles are won before they are even fought.


As a team we all look forward to November 2020 where we will play in the C Pool Worlds. Where they will be held is still uncertain, but what is certain is that we will play our hearts out as we have done before with the goal in mind of getting back into Pool B the following year where we belong. The hard work and dedication starts right here, right now!


Well I have rambled on long enough now so I will leave you with this quote from a great man:




Success is not final,

Failure is not fatal:

It is the courage to

Continue that counts.


Winston Churchill


Till next time folk…




November 14th 2019 Eleven players from the Great Britain Para Ice Hockey Team will fly out to Berlin, Germany to compete in the B Pool World Championships and hopefully place near the top of the table. The GB Squad have not attended a competition since the Japan Worlds where they fought bravely to try and secure a bronze medal, but sadly losing to Slovakia. That being said Matt Clarkson #5 did get the only goal for the GB Team, which is a true testament to both him and the team for not giving up despite taking injuries during the game.


The GB Squad will be lead out by their Captain Tyler Christopher #9 who has been playing the game since 2010. This is the first time he will Captain the side and he said, “Getting picked to be the Captain was so unexpected, but this has been a dream of mine ever since I touched the ice for the first time in 2010. I am so honoured and proud to lead the team out onto the ice for our first game.”


Tyler will not be alone in leading the team as he will have his trusted lieutenants or Alternate Captains, as there called, and they were given to Matt Clarkson #5 and Karl Nicholson #6. Both of them are experienced players with many years of competitive sports behind them. Karl, who has played in quite a few World Championships, said, “The thrill and privilege of being selected to represent your country never gets old. Knowing you’re among the best players in the UK and the sacrifices we have all made to get there always manages to make me feel proud.”


Matt Clarkson said, “For me, representing Great Britain in the Para Ice Hockey World Championships means so much, especially as I never expected to be able to compete in sport at any level having been born with Spina Bifida. So the challenge of playing at an international level is a privilege and something that I relish and look forward to. I am proud to have been selected as an Alternate Captain and welcome the opportunity to help lead the team on to the ice and achieve its goals in the tournament.”


We have several new guys in the team who I have no doubt will be feeling a little nervous, however I know they will be looking forward to representing their country and the pride they will feel as they put their GB Hockey Jersey’s on for the first time will be like nothing they have experienced before. But the experienced guys in the team will be there to guide them through the emotional storm that is to come as we play our first game against the Slovakian team on day one of the tournament.


Shirley Packwood is the Team Manager and has arguably the most important job on the bench looking after the medical needs of our Athletes, and on occasions will make an appearance on the ice if and when someone gets injured (As one of our athletes found out in Japan 2016). Shirley is our point of call if we start to get any niggles or sore muscles, which let’s face it, is going to happen as Para Ice Hockey is a hard, fast and a full contact sport. It would be inconceivable to think any team would finish a tournament with no injuries. That being said we would have a lot more injuries if Shirley was not on the bench.


Peggy Assink, who is the assistant coach and a Canadian (we don’t hold that against her), comes from a background in Para Ice Hockey. As we know most if not all Canadians are born on the ice and only know two seasons… The one with snow and ice, and the one without snow and ice. Peggy has been a great asset to the GB Team helping out our head Coach Ian Offers, in supporting the Athletes on and off the ice. She says, “It has been a pleasure to work with this group of athletes and staff who are working tirelessly to both fundraise and prepare for the upcoming Worlds. The Athletes have impressed the coaching staff with their dedication to training on and off the ice and I can’t wait to see the GB Squad compete in Berlin.” Peggy has a wealth of knowledge that has made this team better prepared than any of the last few competitions we have been to and we are all looking forward to the prospects of a great tournament and hope to reap the rewards of all the training we have done on and off the ice.


Our Head Coach, Ian Offers, has come from a hockey background and it is safe to say he eats, breaths and lives for Ice Hockey. If he doesn’t know something about Ice Hockey, which is unlikely, it’s probably not worth knowing in the first place. Ian took over the role in 2015 where he brought a new way of coaching. Everybody in the team noticed a difference straight away and we were excited as to where the coach could take this team of great players.


The Coach said, “The GB programme has been through a lot of changes since Japan (2016) as we look to make it more professional and organised. When the Management Team spoke to the Athletes 18 months ago, outlining our expectations, all of the Athletes bought into the concept. Now, after a lot of hard work, we get to see how we measure up against our peers. The sport still has no funding in the UK so we rely on sponsorship and clothing sponsors for our on and off ice apparel, but the steps we are taking are leading us in the right direction. In my opinion, I have the best roster of players, all playing for the same goal and all of them are proud to pull on the GB Shirt and show the world what we can achieve.”


As our Coach said the GB squad is completely self-funded with generous people and company’s donating money to help our athletes get to the Worlds. This time round we have been sponsored kit by the likes of Kappa, Mowbray Sports, PLS Solicitors and We Are VHUK, which is absolutely wonderful. So a big ‘Thank You’ goes out to all the companies that have sponsored us by way of kit. We hope to do you all proud at the Berlin Worlds.


The GB Team have been training for the Berlin Worlds for nearly two years now and we have really worked hard on all aspects of our game on the ice and off the ice in the classrooms. The sacrifices athletes have made to get to training has not gone unnoticed by the Management Team, but as any athlete knows, if you want to be the best in your field of sport sacrifices have to be made. Speaking to everyone in the team they all say the same, “They could not do what they do without the love and support from loved ones back home. The un-sung heroes who are left to keep the home fires burning while their respective partners go off into the night and train hard into the early hours of the morning. The athletes come back home creeping into the house all stealth like as not to disturb the dog and wake their loved one up even though they know she will be sat up in bed with folded arms saying, “You’re not getting into bed until you have a shower.” So, a HUGE ‘Thank You’ goes out to all those understanding partners who support us every day.


To the Great Britain Para Ice Hockey Team, the last 18 months have been building to a crescendo where we will be United in the losses, but more importantly in the wins. Every one of us has the Passion to strive for excellence and will leave every last bit of us out on the ice after each game. We are the Elite of the UK and we all believe we can go toe to toe with the rest of Pool B and we will not shy away from a scrap. We are not the team of old, for we are better in every way. We are a proud team that will fight to the very last whistle.


GB Squad, I leave you with this quote:


How hard would you play today, if you knew you couldn’t play tomorrow.’

Anon.



Till next time folks



Jon Le Galloudec #22




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