GGSU means something different for everyone. Although the acronym did have its original meaning, for one person the S stood for survival. For those of you who do not know, a member of GGSU, our own Olivia Davis, was diagnosed with cancer last year and through her hard work, determination and mental toughness, she has beat it! As you can see from the photo above, Olivia is clearly a fighter.
I talked to Olivia this past weekend about her battle to get back on the ice and how goaltending and GGSU helped her in her journey to get back to not only healthy, but back in the crease. If I learned anything from Olivia, the biggest thing I learned is that she is a BAD ASS. I know a lot of tough hockey players, but to battle with cancer for almost 3 years (2 years and 4 months of treatment to be exact) and then get back on the ice, you have to be one tough cat!
We talked about many things, but I’ll start with the question that I think we were all thinking: What was the hardest part about getting back on the ice?
I think the most difficult part of coming back to my game was realizing how weak I was. It honestly didn't hit me until I went back on the ice for my first time after the first 9 months of my treatment. Standing in skates was a challenge for me. I had terrible balance because I had almost no muscle left in my legs and my stamina was absolutely shot. After I practiced skating a bit, I decided to put my full gear on and go out for a practice. Everything was a struggle. when I went into my butterfly it would take me about a minute and a half to get back up. It was hard for me to process that all the girls out on the ice were stronger and faster and healthier then me. I didn't want to accept the fact that I was so sick. I hated when people told me I couldn't do something. or when people pitied me.. Every time I got scored on I would think bad things about my self and tell myself that I should just give up.
(Olivia's first time back on the ice)
Next, we talked about goaltending idols. To be honest, I was expecting it to be someone like GGSU’s very own Shannon Szabados; yet, I was proven wrong. Although it wasn’t Shanny, it was another member of GGSU, Olivia’s goalie coach: Nolan Kurceba
My goaltending idol is actually my goalie coach and fellow GGSU member, Nolan Kurceba. I started working with Nolan around 3 years ago. I met him at a AAA identification camp. After my first ice session with him, I knew he was the coach for me. Within one ice session he made me realize there’s so much more to being a goalie than just "stopping the puck." He has so much theoretical knowledge about the game that he helped me break down my game and fix all the little pieces I was missing. Before I met him, I was insanely hard on myself, and I showed it in games. I would hang my head or hit my stick on the post, but he ended that. One day after a bad ice session he came up to me and said "Olivia get the fuck over it the puck went in the net. You gotta move on. focus on that next puck. All that matters is the next puck!" So because of him I have not only improved as a goalie physically, but also mentally. He's made me more confident in myself, he continues to teach me new things all the time. He's like family to me. Even though he doesn't get to train me right now, since I'm living in Prince George, I still give him feed back about all my games and he gives me some pointers over text. He's always there for me no matter what. He's actually the one that convinced me to move to Prince George. He said "Olivia, you’ve been training your ASS off for the past two years, you can't throw away this once in a lifetime opportunity!" And in an effort to always remind myself to keep my head up, I wrote a special quote that he said to me on my blocker: "all that matters is the next puck."
I think every elite goalie can see exactly where Olivia is coming from. I know, for me personally, my goalie coach growing was someone I really looked up to. Not only did he teach me how to stop the puck, he taught me how to become strong mentally, he would berate me on the ice, but without him I couldn't have had handled the brutal chirps I heard on the ice. Without great goalie coaches, we are just shooter tutors. What we talked about next was how hockey affected her while going through treatment, and I couldn’t have been more proud (as a goaltender and hockey player) to get Olivia’s response:
Hockey is what made me complete treatment. It gave me the passion and the drive that motivated me to complete treatment. Without hockey, I honestly don't think I would've survived. The very first question I asked my doctor when he told me the news was "when can I play hockey again?" From that moment on, I made it my goal to get back on the ice and get back to the athlete I was and the athlete I knew I could become. I still remember the first time I stepped onto the ice after 9 grueling months. My legs were pencil thin, I was pale and my eyes were hollow, I had no hair on my head. I believe I had just received chemo a few days before I had gone on the ice. I had to hold onto a cone to keep my balance, but I still skated. I couldn't do cross overs and I couldn't skate backwards but I could still skate forwards! I skated laps for hours, continuously getting a little faster and a little more balanced. It felt so good to feel the ice under my feet again. After that first skate, I told myself that I was gonna play AAA. I was ready to do whatever it takes to prove people that cancer didn't have to stop me from following my dreams.
For anyone who has ever had the rug ripped out from under them (or the ice in this case) you know the feeling of getting back on the ice after a drought. I’m not sure how many people have been in a similar situation to this, but I can’t even imagine the sweet release and pure ecstasy that Olivia must have felt to get back to doing what she loved after going through such a brutal journey. Another question I had for Olivia was how cancer had changed her:
Honestly, cancer changed my life. Surprisingly enough, it changed my life in many positive ways. It made me realize that before I got sick, I was taking my life for granted. I was sitting around all the time, not eating right, I would complain about going to hockey practice and I wasn't hanging around the right crowd. When my life was put at deaths door, it was a big reality check. I realized how damn lucky I am to have a roof over my head and clothes on my back. I realized how lucky I am to have such a supportive family. I matured at a very young age because of what I've gone through, and its made me a better person! Its boosted my confidence because so many people look up to me as a hero and an inspiration. Beating cancer hasn't only made me mentally stronger, its also made me physically stronger. I realized how unhealthy I was before treatment, and I absolutely hate sitting around doing nothing now because I had to do so much of that when I was sick. Now I'm very active (hockey 6-9 times a week, 2 drylands, and I go to the gym on my own time 2-3 times a week) plus I'm on a training diet. Physically and mentally I just feel so much better. Plus, on a side note, if I never lost my hair, I would've never realized how good I look with short hair!
Next, we got into some GGSU talk. To be honest, this is what made me most proud to be a part of GGSU, not only as someone who runs the largest group of goaltenders on the internet, but as a member who is helping goalies go through problems on and off the ice. I asked Olivia what her favorite part of GGSU is and her response made me a very proud member:
My favorite part about GGSU is the people. When I think GGSU, I think family. Everyone on here is so supportive and encouraging. We wish each other luck before games, congratulate each other after games and accomplishments, and laugh at each other when we let in bad goals. I always know where to go when I have a goalie related question. Everyone on GGSU has so much knowledge about gear, techniques, and the game in general so I'm always learning new things on here. Also, I love the humor on GGSU. I probably spend at least an hour a day reading through the comments and the memes and the chirps.
Chirping aside, which I think we all know is very prevalent on GGSU, I don’t think Olivia could have hit the nail on the head any more. I know that I think of all the admins as personal friends. Anyone who has ever been to Legends camp can tell you that GGSUnited is just that, UNITED. I think what makes GGSU so great is the fact that, although you will probably get chirped, there is nowhere with more goalie knowledge. That led to my next question for Olivia which was if GGSU had helped her at all with her goaltending:
GGSU has definitely helped me a lot with goaltending. I've picked up a few techniques from some video clips people have posted of themselves or others. I've learned a lot about my mental game from the group as well. I like being on a goalie specific page because it gives me the opportunity to see how other people play their game, both mentally and physically, and its nice to see similarities between my game and that of other goaltenders. I've also learned a lot about gear on GGSU. People post gear and there is always tons of feedback on each piece of equipment, so I know what to avoid and what could potentially help my game.
I think that is a pretty solid assessment of the group. Being that GGSUnited offers everyone from beer leaguers to reps to professionals the chance to give honest feedback on each and every piece of equipment they use/make is a major advantage of the group. Finally, we talked about the one piece I love to know about each and every goaltender: What is your favorite part about goaltending:
My favorite part about goaltending has to be the adrenaline. I love the rush I get when someone is on a break away or I make an incredible save. I love knowing that I'm the last line of defense. I also like it because there’s not a lot of goalies out there, if you compare it to the amount of forwards and defense. It makes me feel unique. When people ask what position I play, I proudly say "I'm a goalie!" and people often say "wow, that’s so awesome!" or "oh, you're one of the weirdoes that likes having rubber shot at you at 100 km/hr!" My goal last year was to make AAA which I have successfully achieved. My next goal is to hopefully get scouted out either this year or next year for a university. But my ultimate goal ever since I was 6 years old, was to play on team Canada in the Olympics. I have watched the Olympics on TV and when I saw team Canada win, everyone cheering and hugging their teammates and wearing their gold medals around their neck, I knew I wanted to play for my country and win a gold medal.
Well, I think I can speak for all of us at GGSU and the goaltending world when I say that we’re right there with you Olivia! I couldn’t agree more with you and the points you’ve made not only about GGSU, but about goaltending in general. We are so happy for all you have accomplished and for the great feats you are soon to accomplish! We wish you all the best, you are a bad ass!! We hope one day you’re competing on Olympic ice with our own legends, Alex Rigsby or Shannon Szabados!