If you follow women’s hockey in Minnesota, you have heard of Alyssa Grogan. If you pay more attention to the Gopher men, or the Wild, or the peewee who skates in your backyard, you may have heard of her but you probaby don’t know much about her. If hockey’s not your thing, you don’t know her story, but it will inspire you just the same.
Alyssa was the starting goalie for the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team for two full years. She started three games her junior year before suffering an injury that would sideline her…permanently.
On October 18, 2010 Alyssa geared up for a Monday afternoon practice. Toward the end of practice, and during a race-to-the-puck drill, Alyssa skated out to challenge the racers. She dove for a pokecheck and was kneed in the head by one player while the other player crashed down on the back of her head.
The fog of concussion crept in on Alyssa immediately. She has suffered symptoms from that collision for the last fifteen months, and on November 30, 2011 the doctor explained to her that her college-hockey-playing days were done. He told her that she was still too symptomatic and it was too dangerous to put her back on the ice.
It sounds like a tragic story, but it is in Alyssa’s resilience that heroism is found.
Just after the injury happened, Alyssa found herself without the one activity that had been so integral to her identity. She had played for the US national team, she had been the starting goalie for her time at the U, and all of a sudden she couldn’t play hockey…she couldn’t attend classes… and she was desperate to find something to help combat the depression that often accompanies head injuries. The athletic trainers, who were helping her to work through her injury, asked her what were some other things that gave her gratification.
She told them, “it makes me happy to do things for other people.”
So, that’s what she did. While her teammates were practicing, playing and traveling, Alyssa began brainstorming and organizing.
Just prior to Christmas break in 2010, Alyssa organized the first Give Back with the Gophers event. The players hosted girls’ hockey teams from the surrounding area and, as a group, they shopped for toys for the needy. The Gopher women then gave the local girls a tour of the Ridder ice arena facility, and Alyssa set up a scavenger hunt through the building. It gave Alyssa something to do, but it also became an incredible way for more and more people to give back too.
“When you get to the U,” she said, “and you see how the girls idolize you. It’s humbling to know I’m in this position to impact so many people by doing the right things.”
For the start of the 2011 season, Alyssa couldn’t use her role in front of the net to inspire people, but she knew as a Gopher she could rally plenty of people to help at a level she could never be able to impact all on her own.
So, for the 2011 event, Alyssa included more people and the impact grew. 55 girl hockey players attended, and with the Gopher players, they collected money, food, hats, gloves, and toys for the needy, they made 13 fleece tie blankets, created 75 decorations for area nursing homes and crafted 175 cards to be sent overseas to the Red Bull unit in Kuwait. Alyssa had collected signed memorabilia from the players as raffle items for the girls, and everyone walked away with something from the event.
Alyssa’s role on the team and as an organizer for the event will change next year. She believes the juniors on the team are motivated to keep the event going strong, and she has agreed to help in any way she can.
The story that unfolded for Alyssa during her time as a Gopher hockey player, was not the one she had envisioned. However, when asked if she would have avoided playing hockey if she knew her career would have ended the way it did, Alyssa responded, “No. It’s a huge blessing to be at the U for two healthy years. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
She may not hold a high spot in the record books, or become a household name because of the way she can play hockey, but the mark she has left during her time on the sideline very well may be more enduring than anything she ever did on the ice.
Copyright 2012 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow
If you want to learn more about Meagan, or her current book project Choosing to Grow: For the Sport of It, visit her at her website www.meaganfrank.com.