The Heart of the Matter
Name: Jordan Lavallee-Smotherman
Hometown: Corvallis, Oregon
Professional Sports: Playing career; NHL, AHL, ECHL, Europe.
Iserlohn, Germany, 2016.
I started training camp just like the previous nine seasons. A routine physical, jammed in a small doctor’s office with men just itching to get it over with, so they can get on the ice to begin what they had been training for all summer. Pretty standard. However, this physical went a bit differently. Following an irregular EKG report on my heart, I was required to follow up with our team doctor for a cardiac MRI. After the MRI, I did not think anything of it. I prepared the next morning like everyone else. I changed into my undergarments, had a coffee, then started my warm up. I wanted to be ready to go after the doc called, and gave me the green light. Instead of a phone call, a text appeared on my phone. “Call me ASAP.” I was three-thousand-miles from home, my family, and my friends. It is hard for me to find the appropriate words to describe the emotions I experienced when I called the doctor back, to have him change my life with one sentence;
“Your professional hockey career is over.”
Myocarditis. I’m sure it has a deeper definition, but to me, all it meant was my playing career was over. I was in a state of complete shock. I felt paralyzed. I have been playing hockey since I was four-years-old. I am not naïve. I know I can’t play the game forever, but to have it torn out from under me so abruptly was too much to handle. I am a hockey player. That identity has been ingrained in me since before I can remember. What is my life going to be like without it? What would I do now? I called my mother immediately after hearing the news and asked her these same questions. She let me go on for a while before stopping me to say, “Jay, all I care about is your health. Come home. We can figure that stuff out later. It’s not important right now. What’s important is that we get you to the doctors here, and that you are healthy.”
Home I went. I saw doctors in the U.S. and in miracle fashion, they had me in surgery and back on the ice four weeks later. FOUR WEEKS LATER! I went from not knowing who I was anymore, to having my identity reinstated in a matter of weeks.
Manchester, New Hampshire, 2017.
When things like this happen to us, they really put things into perspective. When ‘shit hit the fan’ (metaphorically) with that phone call, my first impulse wasn’t to worry about what the repercussions would be on my health. All I cared about was my playing career. Thinking back to my mother’s words (yes, your mom is still right, even when you’re 30), she was trying to remind me that my health was all that mattered.
I have always been externally defined as Jordan the Hockey Player. My friends often introduce me, to this day, by saying “This is Jordan. He’s a pro hockey player.” It always annoyed me a bit, but I just got used to it. As athletes, we get conditioned into believing those definitions are, in fact, who we are. This was the first time I took a step back and really thought about it. I love the game of hockey, it is amazing, but it’s not who I am. It’s what I do. Sure, it has shaped me into the person I am today, but I’ll still be me without hockey.
This whole experience really reinvigorated my love and passion for the game. I love this game. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have been able to make a living off of hockey, and I continue to do so today. Knowing that I will be me, no matter where my path takes me, makes still being able to play the game of hockey that much better.