In the world of hockey, we’re all familiar with “Herbies.” A high velocity drill with everyone’s lungs and legs maxed out from skating and working hard. All part of the conditioning necessary to give us the stamina needed to compete at our highest level every shift of every game. Of course it brings to mind Coach Herb Brooks and all the hard work his players put in getting ready for the 1980 Winter Olympics and their eventual gold medals. Now picture those players exiting the medal ceremony and handing the very fruits of all that hard work to Coach Herb so he could send them to a group of special athletes they’ve never even met. Sound noble and cool? Well, that’s exactly what happened in September for five lucky Minnesota Special Hockey players.
Killdeer, North Dakota is 556 miles from Minneapolis according to Google Maps. It’s a beautiful place near my hometown and both units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The Killdeer area is also home to an amazing group of 40 elementary cross country runners and their awesome coach and physical education teacher, Ashley Jelly. My introduction to Coach Ashley happened earlier this year, and she is one of the most energetic and innovative people I’ve encountered.
As a way of inspiring her runners and teaching them the benefits of kindness and generosity, she approached me with the idea of dedicating their season to the players on the Minnesota Special Hockey Moose team that I coached. Because many of her runners were also going to donate their hard-earned ribbons, we decided to narrow it down to the hockey kids who did not otherwise receive medals and ribbons from competing in Special Olympics or adapted sports programs.
It was a ton of fun getting updates and pictures throughout September on how the Killdeer runners were doing during practices and races. The first update came September 11 and included the following from Coach Ashley:
We had one little girl in 2nd grade who got 5th place and the first thing she did with her ribbon was show her mom and then run over to me. I thought she was showing me it because she was proud of herself, but she wanted me to have it so that we could send it to your hockey players :). This made my heart so happy, and she didn't second guess her decision at all!
The second update came September 21 and contained these inspiring stories:
We had one little girl in 4th grade who had fallen on the concrete and scraped both knees up before her race even started. She comes walking up to me with blood running down both legs and tears in her eyes, saying "I'm supposed to race but, I'm bleeding, I don't wanna miss the race!" She finished the race, and for her to tough out the blood and the sting was really awesome and rewarding to see as a coach. I know her main motivating factor is that she wants to win more ribbons so that she can donate them to your hockey players.
On our first Dickinson race, we had Reese run the half mile with the younger kids because we weren't quite sure of her stamina, but she crushed it! So when we ran in New Town, last week she moved up to the older division and rocked the 1 mile run! She ran the 1 mile again today which was the TOUGHEST course we have had all season. Our course had a lot of up and down hills, with the finish line being all uphill. She was able to finish the race strong with a couple of her teammates running and cheering with her. The sight of kids helping her to finish was truly heartwarming and makes me so proud as a coach.
All 40 Killdeer runners received Minnesota Special Hockey pins at their year-end party. In keeping with the Moose tradition started years ago, we also presented a special, dual hockey and running medal to Miss Reese, as our “Player of the Game” for inspiring greatness in her teammates, coaches and her new hockey friends in Minnesota.
Coach Ashley seemingly saved the best for last with her update on October 1:
We had our party on Thursday to celebrate the season. We had so much fun between the games, food and pie throwing. They got to throw pie in my face (40 pies to be exact) for running the last race without anybody stopping.
Reese was incredibly excited to win the award of " Player of the Game." In fact, she was so excited she wore her medal to school the next day. She really made me smile when I saw she even wore her medal during gym class. She is truly proud of herself and has made a big difference on the lives of so many of us. I am attaching a picture of her with her medal.
Lastly, I wanted to say thank you for sending the pins. One of my first graders had it on his shirt the next day at school, and he was incredibly proud to wear it.
This season was truly amazing and a big part of that was because of you and your players. We are hundreds of miles apart; yet, your players inspired us to give our best on a daily basis.
The feeling was certainly mutual as our lucky hockey players received amazing (and huge!), hand-crafted cards along with 24 ribbons earned by Killdeer runners with hockey rink-sized hearts. Mya smiled from ear-to-ear as she showed me all of her ribbons and told me the place that “she” got with each one. Hunter and his dad talked about posting the card and ribbons on his bedroom wall. Lila not only received a handful of hard-earned ribbons, she also gained a new friend. Miss Reese is going to be Lila’s long-distance big sister/mentor during our hockey season and hopefully beyond.