From The Brink To The Rink

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)
Last season, I broke a rule of mine that was an important one for myself. When I started at Admirals Roundtable I didn’t want to be anything more than the byline. I had written on a few occasions how difficult things were becoming behind the scenes. I was mentally burned out. After spending five seasons around the Milwaukee Admirals it felt like I needed to hit the reset button on my career aspirations.

As I’ve continued getting things published here throughout the off-season, attending Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp, revamping the website’s look and functionality, and making business partnerships for the 2017-18 season – I’ve been receiving a lot of “are you back” questions. The simple answer is: Yes. The more complex answer involves me breaking my rule again. I need to tell my story.

Where do you really start an autobiographical piece? I was born in Milwaukee and raised in Racine. Also, there is a fun story of how my dad is from England and my parents met through a school program between Milwaukee and Wantage that made the two pen pals as kids. The mum eventually flew over to meet him -and- that’s all pretty far back. Though, the English side of me is why I adopted the moniker “The Doctor” and have been called that around the rink now for years. But I feel the best starting point for my story is when I was a freshman in high school.

When you’re entering high school everything is being thrown at you from every conceivable angle. Some adapt to the changes and pressures well. Some are overwhelmed. And some crumble. I’d list myself as the overwhelmed type. Even as far back as 2nd Grade teachers said I daydreamed a lot and struggled to pay attention. Now take that personality trait into the mind of any kid heading into high school and, yeah, overwhelmed is rather spot on.

I would cite two issues for me that made that year a blur. The first was social anxiety. The second was that I was so focused on the road ahead and not enough on the present. It had a vicious cycle element to it, as well. One could just as easily spike the other. With social anxiety comes serious wear on an already weak confidence. I was petrified to socialize, have my name called during class, doing group activities, or -worst of all- doing a presentation in front of an entire class. I remember once doing a group presentation with three classmates for an English course, standing in front of everyone, not remembering a thing that we were presenting, and actually bolting from the front of the class to the nearest bathroom where I hid until the class was over. I don’t remember exactly what grade I received on that presentation but my guess was it was bad.

Things like that were a constant, sadly. I was stuck in a shell and constantly worrying. It all built into that second issue which was thinking about the future and not enough about the present. “Your grades matter now,” was always this rallying point professors would bring up to us high school freshman. It was all about college. So, naturally, my mind drifted as such. What college would I be able to get into? And what the heck am I going to do when I get there? What do I want to do for a career? All of those questions, again and again, for an entire freshman year. My mind was focused four-years ahead but not at all on the present.

The freshman year ended with a parent/teacher conference. I wouldn’t out him by name by my homegroup professor in high school didn’t really monitor or check in on me at all. As I would learn later on, some can really push students the right way and get the most out of them but mine at the time – he always simply seemed “ok” with how I was doing. When you’re socially locked up, as I was, that was fine. I was content with being in my bubble. So, when he told me that I was being kicked out of high school after my freshman year for poor grades – that bubble popped. I was shocked out of my own head and into reality. I had a 1.5 GPA. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have been all that shocked – but I was 14-years old and too busy thinking ahead and not busy enough about the here and now. That English dad of mine asked me to leave the room to talk with that professor behind closed doors. I remember walking over to where my friends and I would play chess during lunch, leaning against the wall, and crumpling down in tears. Whatever college, career, or thoughts I had conjured up in my head for down the road were gone. I heard shouting from behind that closed door and then was asked to comeback. The next step for me wasn’t just going to be taking classes over in Summer. I had failed enough classes where I was going to need to do them over again in unison to my sophomore year of classes. It was a reprieve. But that was the best lesson that professor ever gave me. I was finally awake.

There is a catch to that ol’ homegroup professor though. That sophomore season I was motivated to make good on what I saw as a second chance. I did my freshman year completely over again simultaneously as I did my sophomore year in high school. Thankfully, the socially beat up side of me wasn’t made to feel lesser by that younger class that I was joining in on. I didn’t feel out of place. If anyone really did my head was so focused on getting work done that it didn’t get under my skin as it may have the year prior. Yet, time and again, that didn’t matter to that homegroup professor who would routinely tell me that I was never going to graduate high school. When you’re a kid, and a professor says something like that to you, what are you really supposed to say?

I fortunate to be in very good standing with the principal at the time. We were both big Formula 1 fans and somewhere along the way hit it off. I knew that I needed to get away from that bad influence on my life so I asked him one day if I could change my homegroup professors and the principal helped see that happen. Upon finding out I switched that professor called me a “hypocrite” for reasons I still don’t understand. He was gone though. The last time I would see him came when I graduated from Walden III High School. The way that ceremony worked saw each individual homegroup go up one at a time and individual students had the chance to speak if they so wished. The first person to speak that day, of all people, was me. I have to imagine for a lot of my graduate class that was likely the first time they heard me speak. My speech came after the professor I that switched to gave me an introduction. She talked about how far I came, how I had successfully more than doubled my GPA from where I started, and that I would be attending my college of choice. Which, as it so happened, was where the ceremony was being held that day: the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. I stared down that original homegroup professor the entire intro speech. He laughed at me when my struggles were mentioned. I’ll never forget that.

That chapter was complete but similar troubles followed. At UW-Parkside I started as an Art Major. I don’t even have an answer to “why” to be honest. It was something I liked doing. It wasn’t something I loved doing. Somewhere along the way I was finding myself in the exact same trouble with my grades and the “what’s next” talk. Twice I found myself in jeopardy of getting the boot from UW-Parkside. That final time is when I really had enough. Is college for everyone? Should I leave, get a job, and try to come back later? But something really struck me in the “what do I have to lose” department.

When you’re starting college. When you’re as distracted or lost in high school as I was when thinking about the future. The real simple question to ask yourself, when thinking about a career, is what are you passionate about? I’ve grown up at Road America in Elkhart Lake but I’m never going to be a high level engineer if I don’t really care much for the math and science courses needed to get properly involved in motorsports. But, away from that, I love sports. I have a near photographic memory when it comes to sports – all forms of it. What really had me excel out of the darkness in high school was a new found passion for writing. I had taken “Poetry” as an elective and suddenly found writing as an art form spectacular. Poetry helped me to erase what rules I saw in writing as restrictive. Writing, like poetry, can be all of what you make of it to be. Writing became more fluid to me and I spent the bulk of my senior year in high school at the UW-Parkside library to write a 50-page thesis paper as part of Walden III’s ROPE Program to graduate high school. That doesn’t happen without that random “Poetry” elective. That probably doesn’t happen without being told I’d never graduate. Writing became a passion for me. Sports always was one of my biggest passions. Who is to say I wouldn’t graduate high school? Who is to say I couldn’t get into the sports field?

(Photo Credit: Cedric Ray)
How do you start as a sports writer or reporter? You start – anywhere you possibly can – period. UW-Parkside isn’t exactly a hot bed of high level sporting talent that begs for national media attention. There could be people reading this now who don’t even know UW-Parkside is based in Kenosha. It’s NCAA Division II. There isn’t a channel on TV for the Great Lakes Valley Conference. I’m not even sure if right now the Parkside Rangers have or use a hashtag for social media. It’s small. And it’s best athletic programs when I attended were predominantly women’s soccer and basketball. It might not be big. The Kenosha News was hardly covering UW-Parkside Athletics at the time. But it needs to be covered. If no one is doing that it is an opportunity lost. And that’s where I came in. I approached UW-Parkside’s student newspaper organization The Ranger News for a sports reporting position. In that moment, and predominantly in my time that followed, they didn’t have any sports writers. As far as job interviews go that was an easy sell. I signed up at the end of the Spring Semester in 2009 and was ready to get rolling that Fall. My foot was in the door at that point. You need to start somewhere – anywhere. That problem was solved. The next problem was facing down anxiety again.

What’s the single most important element of reporting: social interaction. If you struggle with groups, talking with strangers, asking questions that make you feel or look stupid, or simply putting yourself out there – it’s going to be hard. That Summer I went out of my way to actually try breaking habits and leap out of my own skin because I knew what I wanted to do and what I’d be getting myself into. The results and waiting game for that Fall to begin had me suffering from panic attacks and insomnia. That’s when I first properly met with an actual doctor to discuss those problems and it was a real help.

The first actual game that I covered was a women’s soccer match between UW-Parkside and Missouri S&T. I took the assignment on a “throw myself into the fire” approach at my first news meeting. Why? Because I wanted to push myself and meet the anxiety and new situations head on. If this is what I really wanted to do I was going to have to break myself. I had to do it. The Editor-in-Chief told me the matches at Wood Road Field started in five-minutes – and I was off to the races. I was in the stands in time to catch the full game. My only real problem was – one team wore all white and the other wore all green. UW-Parkside’s color palette is green and white. Which team was UW-Parkside and who are any of our players? I didn’t have a roster. I didn’t know the players. This was my first time at the pitch. I didn’t even know which team was which by the time I stumbled up to then head coach Troy Fabiano in a highly professional -and rare- Michael Owen Real Madrid jersey. My first question, as terrified as I was to ask it, needed to be brought up, “who scored?” I’ve asked a few questions better than that since. But if there is any reason why I moved forward as a sports writer it is because Troy Fabiano continually made me feel welcome, respected, and waged through those first few seasons of me getting comfortable in my own skin as a reporter.

The more I pushed myself at The Ranger News the more confident I was feeling as a person. I was doing what I wanted to do. It was being well received. And, after one-year, I was voted by my fellow news staff to a leadership role as Executive Editor. My confidence was slowly being built. That trickled back out through my life, work, and in classes. I wasn’t afraid to be me anymore. That thick shell of mine had finally cracked.

I may not have been the first person to go up and get the diploma like in high school – but, hell, I was ninth. I had gone from nearly getting booted out of high school to a Dean’s List student graduating at my first-choice college. After accomplishing that the next battle was finding work within the sports field: applying to newspapers, professional teams, minor league teams, college athletic programs, etc. Much like the past few years the job hunt is a long wait and see game where it feels the only way to win is to never stop putting your name in hats until someone comes calling. That process can really suck the life out of you. At that point though I’m exiting college and optimism is at an all-time high. Apply. Apply. Apply. The first person to snap up my résumé and call me was Charlie Larson, VP/Communications for the Milwaukee Admirals, in regards to a Communications Internship. I am a big believer in things happening for a reason. When I first interviewed for that role I walked into the front office with no anxiety. In that moment, for how the journey started, I had proved a lot to myself. I had no anxiety being there. It immediately felt like I was home.

My time with and around the Admirals has been the biggest and most important chapter in my life to this point. This is now a five-year long chapter in my life and it started with me being one of oldest student interns that the Admirals have had. My fellow interns during the 2012-13 season were all college students with years to go yet and I was a few months removed from graduating. Anyone who gets the opportunity to work in a high level professional environment before finishing college: you are doing yourself a massive favor and setting yourself up really well for the future. That wasn’t me though. I didn’t have anything to return to when that season ended. I didn’t have time left in college. My plan was simple. I wanted to treat every day that I worked as though it was a job interview and to impress enough that they wouldn’t want to see me go anywhere else. That did and didn’t happen.

On the back of my internship I was offered the chance to take over the duties as Editor-in-Chief of Admirals Roundtable from Ryan Miller. It was a fan blog chatting up the team from a fan perspective. I was hesitant about it. But, hey, it was a chance to continue being around the Admirals and to continue building my name in the field. I had a single job interview that Summer. It went down to the wire between myself and “the local guy” for a digital media gig with the Minnesota Wild. It didn’t pan out in my favor. My mind was then firmly set on being back around the Admirals under a new banner, a new role, and with a very real challenge of making Admirals Roundtable become a reflection of myself.

(Photo Credit: Milwaukee Admirals)
I have been the Editor-in-Chief of Admirals Roundtable for four full seasons now. The early stages my journey here I made it an effort to treat this role as my full-time job. If you don’t treat work seriously? No one will. Things here needed to be done right and consistently right. On social media there needed to be an active presence and one that registered with all walks of life. Considering the job market in the sports field is either barren or concedes jobs to “the local guy” it was that much more important for me to treat Year 1 at Admirals Roundtable as earning a doctorate: educate myself on multiple areas of operation, utilization of social media, and continually delivering content on the Milwaukee Admirals. My research that season wasn’t limited to Anthony Bitetto. I needed to better understand a business mindset. So, I worked – and I never really stopped. I’ve never been competing against anyone other than myself. That is how I have always seen things. What can I do? And what can I do to top it? I want to do the things that the Admirals themselves and local media don’t do enough and push the narratives of these players and this team. In my first season I had written at least one story per day for the whole of 2013-14. When selling me on taking over the website Miller told me that you will get back what you put in. I’ve put everything into Admirals Roundtable since taking over – everything.

That’s where things really hit hard. What’s the end goal of all of this for me? It’s to eventually be able to land somewhere and do this and more -while being paid- on a full-time basis. It’s simple to say. It feels next to impossible to make happen. The constant of applying for work and never getting responses back has been draining. It has been a blackout. There is almost a slight joy when seeing an automated “appreciate your interest but” email. At least it beats applying, waiting, and then seeing someone has already long filled the role. When you are a perennial job searcher you begin to not only give up care for responses back, knowing you may not get one in the first place, but also more and more feel the harsh weight of reality caving in on you. It won’t happen. No one really cares. You’re on your own. And, around this time a year ago, I really was. I was locked into a battle over health care. I haven’t been tax eligible my entire life. I had been on BadgerCare Plus since becoming of age that I was off of my parents health care coverage. And it suddenly was declined, renewals wouldn’t go through, and calls -day after day- with various people and organizations went nowhere. No one would take accountability. Constant working on the phone. There weren’t really any reasons as to why it was declined. It was gone. I felt helpless and exposed and started the 2016-17 season mentally defeated and torched.

In the middle of this past February there was a three-in-three weekend in which I was also traveling down to Rockford to complete the trifecta. Before the Friday game to start that three-in-three off I looked to one of my very close friends while sitting in my press seat and told her that I didn’t even want to be there that night. I was at a stage of depression the likes of which I hadn’t felt in years. All that I could really see at that point was the futility of my situation. I’m right where I want to be – but not. I’ve been around for years now and have been told so many positive things from incredible people about the work that I do. Those complements started to feel more like insults. To be so close from fulfilling a dream, for so many years, had been agony. Depression was beaten into me from where this story started. There have been hard times. But I’ve always viewed those times as challenges in which I can battle back, overcome, and be a better person because of it. Last season I stopped believing in myself. I stopped caring.

There isn’t a cure for depression. There isn’t. But, as you live long enough with it, you learn more of how your mind and body works through those times. You see red flags. You begin to understand certain traps you might set for yourself. Experiencing it long enough provides enough blueprints for how you can keep your head up through rough waters. But I was gone. I was doing what I loved doing and telling someone I care deeply about in bitter fashion that I didn’t want to be there anymore.

(Photo Credit: Jeremy K. Gover)
I made a stop to Nashville at the end of that month in an effort to raise my spirits and remind myself of the journey I’ve been on. My reason for doing this came thanks to Justin Bradford of Penalty Box Radio opening up his doors back for Nashville Predators Rookie Development Camp ahead of the season. It was my first ever trip to Nashville, Tennessee – which is decent car ride from Caledonia, Wisconsin. All I wanted to be was that byline and someone who worked hard around the rink. The moment I first arrived to Nashville there was a warmth the likes of which simply overwhelmed me. The people there are so kind, so genuine, and seemed to make a point of contacting me while there or needing to say, “hi.” As someone on the introverted side. As someone who can beat the crap out of himself mentally. That trip forced me to stop, look around, and realize how far I’ve already come as a person and in my pursuit of making it in the field. After hitting such a low I needed that feeling again. Bradford was kind enough to once again open his doors up to me and the Predators organization did so, too. Nothing can hit home harder that physically putting yourself in a spot that forces you to stop and look around. That’s what the Bridgestone Arena is capable of and that was my first true experience being in that building. Between Nashville Predators organization, my fellow media colleagues there, and all the amazing fans – it helped a lot. I would say that Nashville trip helped lift me up enough to finish out last season. Again, you can’t defeat depression – but you can fight it.

Before the Admirals were matched up against the Grand Rapids Griffins for a second successive Calder Cup Playoffs match-up I had it in my head that I was done. The last thing I ever wanted to be going into this field was someone who had the privilege to cover a sport and be bitter about doing what I love doing. That’s what I became and I hated it. I still wanted to finish out my end-season recap material here. Once the off-season really started up I owed it to myself to detach as much as possible. I didn’t even want to think about work. I needed to think about where I was mentally. Eventually, the batteries were recharged and I started applying for pretty simple non-sports jobs. Amusingly hasn’t gone much better.  Which put me back to the “what do I have to lose” department.

I can say right now that I have my health care coverage back. Why did I get it back now? Why not, I guess. It’s such a weird system but one that I never stopped battling with until a wrong was made right. It has been a massive weight off my mind. Better than that though is that it provided me with a moment of clarity.

Why am I here and why did I want to be here in the first place? Because I love this and this is what I want to do. Part of why I love the AHL so much is that I identify with it on a personal level. I am watching young men that are growing up and chasing down their dreams of playing in the NHL. I am in my own AHL and have been competing for my NHL since I was 14-years old. I’ve watched Mark Van Guilder make it. I’ve watched Mike Liambas make it. I’ve watched Frédérick Gaudreau go from an undrafted AHL signing to the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL to scoring goals for the Nashville Predators in the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. They fought for it. They earned it. They deserved it. The whole of the world can doubt me and I’ll still be fighting like hell to get to my NHL. I see the raw form of dreams coming true consistently in the AHL. It’s inspiring to see good things happen to good people knowing how hard that they work for it on a daily basis. That’s my favorite part of following the Admirals each and every season. You are always guaranteed one story that hits you out of nowhere that makes you a fan of not just the player but the person. If I stop those stories might not get told and I guarantee to myself that my dream stays as a dream. The stories need to continue.

(Photo Credit: SlapShot Radio)
The 2017-18 season isn’t too far off. I’m not certain if pre-season in Nashville will happen or not but you can pencil me down for Day 1 of Training Camp in Milwaukee. What I can say with a certainty is that I am already excited for the changes and developments at Admirals Roundtable. I have given the website a fresh new look and am extremely grateful to say that we have sponsors on-board this season with potentially more coming. You have asked plenty the last few seasons about adding a podcast. The Admirals Roundup Podcast is coming this season. Your comments. Your suggestions. Your feedback. It all makes you part of this website. I didn’t have a say in the name, Roundtable, but I always viewed it as myself discussing the team with all of you readers. You are the Roundtable.

It has been asked of me lately that I should be on Patreon. A few have said they would be willing to pay for the content that comes through here to keep Admirals Roundtable running. I have a problem with that though. I don’t want to marginalize an audience. There is something wrong to me to deny a casual audience, or even the hardcore fans, access to feature stories, feature interviews, or a podcast – because they aren’t paying for it. Everyone should be able to see and interact with what comes out of Admirals Roundtable. This is a place for fans – all fans. It’s here where I suggest that if anyone is so willing to discuss paying for anything here to simply donate. It isn’t something I want to force anyone to do. It is that reason why I refuse to be Patreon. But, for those that feel encouraged to contribute, you have my promise that it goes towards Admirals Roundtable.

Lastly, I want to end by saying this for anyone suffering from depression or anxiety: you are not alone. I don’t get to this stage of my life without having an amazing supporting cast around me. I have a loving family and incredible friends in my corner. Their support has guided me here. Sadly, not everyone is fortunate enough to say the same. I am always willing to listen. Sometimes all it takes is that one person to do that. I encourage you all to be that person.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along on Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

2 thoughts on “From The Brink To The Rink”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story. I really do wish the best for you, and I am glad you are planning to continue the blog. I check it every day.

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