Terminal Device, the film, is just about there. Here’s a trailer:

The turning point for me came last January. At Christmas I showed my cut to my nearest and dearest. We collectively sighed and agreed that “uh, uh, it ain’t arrived yet”. The editing I’d been doing in earnest for over 2 years, with great diligence but with significant breaks too, still wasn’t working. I thought it would be a good idea to bring in another editor to help out. I suggested the notion to one whose work is good and whom I know, but our scheduling didn’t coincide.

Then Meg Remy pitched me on having a go at the cut. Now Meg is my daughter-in-law. She’s also a very fine musician and collage artist, and is making her mark as U.S. Girls. We previously worked together on numerous videos, and I’ve helped her out as she’s added filmmaking to her many artistic pursuits. But Terminal Device represented a significantly larger challenge compared to her previous film work: a complex, near-feature-length, essay-style documentary, with a lot of disparate, eclectic footage and oh, some autobiography to sneak in.

Meg returned to a proposal I’d made when I was submitting arts council grant applications to finance the film; start with voice. Find the structure through audio, and let the picture follow. I’d successfully edited a couple of our short films with this method (including Letters from R), but had fallen away from the idea with my own attempts to enter into the Terminal Device material. Alas, my efforts were deeply conventional, including numerous talking head segments, a strictly chronological development, blah, blah…(it was boring, in other words). Jennifer rightly argued that I’m too close to the subject–bits of my own life refracted through a pop cultural lens–to be able to use the footage as freely as was needed. Her point was proven when Meg found her way to the structure and story within a month. By early March, I knew that finishing the film was in sight.

Meg at the editing station

Meg editing Terminal Device

The result, after a further 4 months or so of picture tweaking, sound editing, music scoring (by my beloved firstborn, Meg’s fantastically talented husband, the inimitable Slim Twig), and an impending sound mix session at Urbanpost, will be a finished film.

Collage-like, with no talking heads, an unconventional structure, and an engaging and, dare I say it, entertaining story, the film not only works as cinema, it says what I want it to say. That’s a great feeling. I can’t wait for people to see and engage with it.

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Hook (Wo)man: the Positive

Matter-of-fact amputation.

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road this week and among the pleasures of watching the film for me was the simple, casual way it treats Charlize Theron’s character, Furiosa’s amputated arm and prosthesis. It’s simply no big deal. No back story is deemed necessary to explain it, she doffs and dons the artificial arm as circumstances require, and she’s a far cry from being the bad guy. This is all to the positive, in my opinion. She happens not to have a hand; so what?

By way of minor qualification, I would say only that the film indulges in a couple of things that do attend the upper-extremity-amputee stereotype. The first is the casting of a non-amputee actor in the role, which is most commonly the case in mainstream cinema. (And indeed, I certainly recognize there’s no possible amputee replacement for a star as high-profile as Theron.) Fortunately we’re in the age of green-screen shooting and digital video graphics, which enables a more or less realistic depiction of the prosthesis, in terms of body proportion. Contrast that with any number of able-bodied actors in other films, who, to depict their character, were required to wear prosthetic devices over their hands, and which invariably results in the prosthetic arm looking disproportionately long and, usually, absurd.

The second, somewhat stereotypical element is the attribution of greater-than-normal strength to the prosthesis*, as if losing a hand and wearing what I took to be a mechanical, body-powered prosthesis (that is, it has to be suspended from and operated by the body) would result in enhanced, rather than diminished, strength and capacity. Hate to break it to you folks, but that ain’t on, although in context it’s admittedly a minor strike against prosthetic realism.
*The scene I’m thinking of is when Furiosa is hanging on to Max’s leg with her prosthetic arm as he dangles helplessly outside the speeding war-truck.

The most telling (and obvious) element to challenge the stereotype of the one-armed cinema monster is that Furiosa is a woman. Clearly, the storyteller’s gifting her with an amputation was not accidental. Her traumatic back story–obscure though it is–her ‘fury’, her stated need for redemption (presumably for her complicity in helping to shore up Immortan Joe’s slave-empire), her ability to overcome serious obstacles to achieve what she wants in her world-context; these are all encapsulated and symbolized by her amputation. In a sense, and as is usual for the use of body difference in such narratives, the amputation/ prosthesis signals some kind of moral deformity (hence the need for redemption) but in this instance, Furiosa turns to good rather than pursuing the more normal route toward villainy for the cinematically one-armed. I found this refreshing.

Mostly though, I liked that Furiosa’s one-armed body and prosthesis are treated the way I think amputation and prothesis-wearing should be treated; as part of the normal course of human affairs, not really worthy of comment or even much regard. As Aki Kaurismaki has one of his characters say, in an entirely different film: “Small potatoes.”

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The Candyman Franchise

As the handful of readers of this blog may have ascertained, I’ve taken a lengthy hiatus from posting to the site. The break roughly corresponds to one I took from production on Terminal Device itself. Other demands in my life, combined with dissatisfaction with the cut of the film I had, compelled me to set it aside for a while, and pursue a couple of short projects in the interim.

Premiere screen grabAs of August I’ve taken up re-editing the film. I started more or less from scratch, and even switched editing software (FCP to Premiere) to ensure I wouldn’t simply crib from the last cut. The current iteration feels much closer to what I am after; it’s more cinematic, less plodding and methodical, and simply more fun to watch. Hey, I’m looking to entertain people with this peculiar story, as otherwise who’ll want to stick with it?

Part of the work of re-thinking the film involved further research, which for me has included an examination of mainstream films featuring upper-extremity amputees. And that brought me back to the Candyman horror franchise from the 90’s. I wrote about the first film in my previous post. I have to report that the second, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, and third, Candyman: Day of the Dead, are neither of them quite as interesting as the first. They reiterate much of what is in Bernard Rose’s film without the same layered complexity or the fluid sense of dreamspace that the first Candyman film achieves. Neither of the female leads are up to the standard set by Virginia Madsen in Candyman, although Tony Todd as the anti-hero is consistent, and I was pleased to see that he was given credit as a co-producer on the third film.

That said, there are a couple of noteworthy ideas the two films explore. In Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, the Candyman character is situated as he was in the first film, a murder-victim of 19th-century racist violence.

Candyman 2

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh

His physical pain–anaesthetic-free amputation, deliberately-induced bee attack–and the consequent evil and injustice this represents are suggested to be so immense that he has returned to haunt succeeding generations. He deathlessly embodies the ill he was served, in other words. While none of this is new information, the second film explicitly shows the amputation in flashback. The gruesome scene depicts a measure of horror with the cutting off of a hand that is neither supernatural nor necessarily confined to the realm of cinematic fancy.

Whether it encourages more sympathy than revulsion for the Candyman character is perhaps an open question (as in the first film, we’re obviously meant at some level to empathize with him, and to think of him as more than a cartoonish slasher-monster). What I liked was that the flashback accurately shows what it is to lose a hand: life altering, terrible. I liked too that the sequence returns to the present and has Candyman vary his demand to “Be my victim…” with the plea to “Be my witness.” This call to testimony transcends the simple, physical detail of amputation to say, in effect, that it is a stand-in for the larger, true injustice of racist vigilantism.

Candyman 3

Candyman: Day of the Dead

The third film further varies Candyman’s backstory by suggesting that he was a great if underrated painter (pursuing a rather staid, academic style, if you ask me). We already know that as a black man, he had the temerity to fall in love with his rich, white, female subject. The resolution of the story in Candyman: Day of the Dead, turns on the female protagonist having to kill the ‘good’, as only with its existence can the evil in turn exist, as represented by Candyman. Well, the good is embodied in Candyman-the-artist’s paintings, which miraculously still exist in the film’s present-day timeline. (By the way, there are nice bits of art-world exaggeration and ridiculousness going on, including showing a couple of patrons wearing very dark sunglasses at an opening…) Kill the good, i.e. destroy the man’s art, and the evil dies too, or so we’re encouraged to believe. It’s a reductionist view of things one might say (and obviously I disagree that art should be destroyed), but for the sake of a simple narrative, I suppose it holds up as well as anything.

I liked that art is posited as the opposite of evil. That’s a simple but effective truth, in my book.

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The Horror, the Horror

Part of my goal with Terminal Device, as I suggested in this earlier post and others, is to consider mainstream film images of upper-body amputees. Some of these images derive from horror films; the hook-wearing monster is arguably iconographic in the genre. I’m operating on a few assumptions in my critique, based on viewing as many films as I can that feature one-armed characters, from Howard Hawks’s Tiger Shark (1932), to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013 ).*

The Best Years of Our Lives

The Best Years of Our Lives

My basic assumptions are: with some important exceptions (like William Wyler’s intricate, humane, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)), upper-extremity amputees are generally portrayed as villains; many of these characters’ terminal devices are hooks; often these hooks are more or less impractical for anything other than impaling people; the villains are cartoon-like in their simplicity, flatness and narrative role, even if the film is live-action.

Some of these basic assumptions are confirmed in Bernard Rose‘s horror film, Candyman (1992). Amputee as bad guy: check. Amputee as homicidal maniac: check. Impractically large, unwieldy, non-opening—and therefore no good for clasping things—hook: check. Add in this fact; like Tee Hee in To Live and Let Die, theCandyman villain in Candyman is black. In the world of stereotypical cinema villains, that constitutes double jeopardy!

So yes, the makers of Candyman are guilty of indulging in cliché. But while confirming these assumptions of stereotype, the film also ‘troubles’ them, to put it academically. Indeed the film and Candyman, the character, trouble them in complex, highly intriguing ways. As a whole, and among other things, the film adds up to a meditation on the persistence of racial injustice, the ‘horror’ of miscegenation, sex and its paradoxical linkage of pleasure with pain/ death (“Be my victim…” as an invitation both to congress and to immortality), and the hook as explicit stand-in for the phallus. This, dear reader, is one weird, wild and wooly film that operates with a dream-logic to create its own, very particular world.

Oh, it also involves bees. I think this is a thematic element that isn’t necessarily completely worked out or successful, but it does underpin an amazingly frightening, deeply repulsive yet fascinating lovemaking scene; a unique, truly and utterly nightmare-like tour de force. As a New York Times critic said of the actors in this scene, the wonderful lead, Virginia Madsen, and her nemesis/ lover, Tony Todd, “whatever they were paid, it wasn’t enough.”

I was honestly, pleasantly surprised by Candyman. I count it among the best works in the oft dismal, one-armed-guy film canon (I can readily name the ones at the low end of my scale too, possibly starting with Spielberg’s execrable Hook). Candyman is a film grounded in sometimes strange, wonderful performances. Its look is at times classic cinema-worthy; there are close-ups of Madsen lit with a Virginia Madsensoft-focus intensity that evoked memories of von Sternberg‘s work with Marlene Dietrich. And Candyman sounds fantastic; score by Philip Glass, anyone? If you can stomach a bit of the violently gory in your cinematic diet, I highly recommend it.

Coda: Apparently there are a couple of sequels that create what became a Candyman franchise. I haven’t seen them. Neither of the two follow-up films was directed by Bernard Rose, nor were they shot by Candyman director of photography, Anthony B. Richmond. The second film, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, features a score by Philip Glass, however. I wonder whether the sequels succeed in troubling the hook-wearing-villain stereotype as the first film in the franchise does?

*I could certainly program a One-Armed-Guy Film Festival that would last at least a week or three, but I’m open to suggestions about any titles that I might have missed.

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Body Decoration

ripped carbon fibre socketMy arm is dying. This is a poor picture but you still might be able to see the tears in the black carbon fibre. Maybe they’re reparable, although I think the structural integrity of the forearm is compromised. Parts if it are soft and mushy. Something’s rattling inside. Other things are going wrong too; the wrist unit/ terminal device base is stripped, so the hook won’t properly lock. My kind prosthetist had a go at fixing that but clearly replacement is now called for. I and my mates played our first hockey game of the season last week, and my hook fell off while I was on the ice. Needless to say, that wasn’t helpful for my game.

As the one I have is at least a dozen years old, I’m thinking of getting a new arm. I’d like it to be a little bit fancy—listen, if the thing’s going to draw attention, i might as well make it worth talking about. There are decorative things one can ask for, like having synthetic fabric woven into the carbon fibre to create a sort of tattoo. This is a change from my youth; when I asked for a solid black prosthesis years and years ago, it was considered an unusual request. Until that point in my life, my prosthetic arms had always been a pinky, denatured beige (presumably (white-person-)”flesh-coloured”, except not really). If there’s an uglier, less life-like colour, I’m not sure what it is, which is why I started asking to have mine made in plain black.

Bespoke Innovations imageNow, one can even have words imprinted in the carbon fibre; one arm I’ve recently seen has “Livestrong” embedded. I think I’d rather stick with a plain black socket (as with fashion, black’s understated, classic) with an option. The option I’d like to pursue is a so-called fairing, one that’s removable. Here are images of leg fairings, elegant prosthetic decorations made (at considerable cost) by a U.S. company. They don’t undertake commissions for upper-extremity prostheses; I asked. But the idea’s an interesting one and perhaps I can find a jeweler or metalworker to make something for me.

Bespoke Innovations image

Bespoke Innovations image

Bespoke Innovations image

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Unjustly Held

John GreysonI’m interrupting my normal posts, all more or less related to my film project, to acknowledge and support the on-going efforts to have a colleague and friend, John Greyson, and his friend, Dr. Tarek Loubani, released from a Cairo prison. They’ve been held there since August 16 without charge. Reportedly they were in transit to Gaza and simply ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time (and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise). They ventured into a police station to get directions and were summarily detained. Last week, which marked more than 30 days in jail for them, John and Tarek started a hunger strike. I can only imagine the anguish that has brought them to this terrible choice. I join with all those calling upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately release the two men.

I’ve known John since the 80’s through our mutual participation in the independent film and video (media) art community in Toronto. John’s work has been screened, fêted and awarded at festivals here in Canada and internationally. He’s a longtime board member at V Tape, one of the key non-profits in Toronto providing services to media artists. John’s taught at York University for several years and is a highly respected and experienced educator, well-liked by both students and colleagues. He’s an activist for human rights.

One thing that has dismayed me in the past few weeks of following the efforts to free John and Tarek (led by John’s sister, Cecilia, and friend, Justin Podur) is the unkind, oft-vicious and remarkably ignorant commentary that follows many of the mainstream news articles about their incarceration. Most of these comments are groundless and to dignify them with a response is to give them too much credit; they simply make me feel ashamed of some of my fellow citizens, who strike me as cynical and cowardly.

One assertion I’ve seen does need answering however, and that is the absurd belief that the Canadian government shouldn’t exert effort or spend public dollars to help free the two men. This is amazingly obtuse, to say the least. We live in a society that publicly espouses certain values, and ostensibly places at its constitutional heart a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If we honestly believe in those rights—including freedom of speech and association and the requirement to follow due process—than we are morally obliged to assist our fellow Canadians when those rights are summarily abridged, as has happened with John and Tarek, even when the abridgement occurs elsewhere than Canada. It’s no longer about their choice, and having to live with the consequences. It’s about our obligation as their fellow citizens to ensure that they are treated as we feel all Canadians (indeed ideally all people, whether Canadian or not) should be treated. If they have breached a law, cite the charge, and present their accusers, and show the evidence in a timely fashion; otherwise release them. That is how humanely-run authority works. It is the only way we can trust to enter into a compact with authority. I want that as a Canadian, and I argue for your right to it as a fellow Canadian, even if I vehemently disagree with you. John and Tarek may be beyond our borders and subject to other laws, but that doesn’t stop our mutual moral obligation.

I’m not sure if the ugly commentary is evidence that a backlash was inevitable, given the great support John and Tarek’s plight has generated from some high-profile artists, entertainers and academics. There may also be something to the idea that if we’re agitating for the release of John and Tarek, why aren’t we also agitating for others held without charge (who knows how many?), in all kinds of conditions, by a variety of authorities, and including Guantanamo detainees (“terrorists” by definition, mind) held by Canada’s closest ally, the U.S.A.?

I say to this: John and Tarek are innocent (I believe this, full stop. But they are also innocent by their own assertion; and without evidence or charge to say otherwise, they must be given every benefit of the doubt). They deserve nothing less than full community support and governmental efforts to free them. Any one of us might be caught up in a similarly horrific, Kafka-esque situation, and Canadian activity and support on our behalf is the least we should expect. As to the countless, anonymous others held without due process, yes, we should rightly bear them in mind too, and make efforts to agitate for their release, where we know of to do so. Support Amnesty International. Write letters to MPs and congressional representatives and senators. Wear buttons calling for freedom and factually- and law-based procedure. Agitate and demonstrate. Do what you do best to support the unjustly held.

But merely because John and Tarek’s may be one case among many, we certainly should not do less for them.

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Hollywood Definitions

The best word-reference work I own is The Compact Edition Of The Oxford English Dictionary, 20th U.S. printing, 1981, given me by my dear father-in-law. It was “Reproduced Micrographically”, which means it’s supplied with a magnifying glass, as the average font size is about 5. Apparently it has over 300,000 main entries and over 615,000 “word-forms in total”—the two volumes, compacted from 13 originals, count over 4,000 pages—which is ample evidence that English truly is an awe-inspiring, vocabulary-rich language.

I recently looked up the word, stereotype. The first OED definition says that to stereotype, a transitive verb, is a printing process that uses a stereotype plate (the (adjectival-)noun form), that is, a “solid plate of type-metal…”. The OED traces a first appearance of the word to the year 1798. When we get to the third entry, we’re closer to what we now think of as current usage: “3. fig. Something continued or constantly repeated without change; a stereotypical phrase, formula, etc.; stereotyped diction or usage.” And indeed, the first definition of stereotype from the on-line dictionary site I use is: “1. A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image.” This figurative or metaphoric usage of the original word is a direct derivation of the first OED entry, describing a process to print a text repeatedly, with the resulting copies presumably looking more or less the same.

Below are some representations of what just might be a cinematic stereotype, one in which I’m currently quite interested. See if you can spot the variations. And based on the behaviour of these prosthesis-wearers, wouldn’t you think that when I see you next, I’m gonna getcha?

Prosthetic menace 1 Prosthetic menace 2 Prosthetic menace 3 Prosthetic menace 4 Prosthetic menace 5 Prosthetic menace 6

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I’ve been working on Terminal Device since 2010, and started shooting about 18 months ago. I though I’d be finished by now. I’m wrong. In fact, I’m much further from completion than I thought I’d be. I have a cut, which I showed recently to my partner, Jennifer, who’s co-producing with me. She said, in so many words, that the film’s a long way from finished.

Summer editing room

Summer editing room

Watching it, one comes away uncertain what it’s about. Deliberate, methodical and episodic, the flow and connection from segment to segment has yet to be established. Were it a person, you’d think the film has very low affect, and is incapable of connecting emotionally. Needless to say, to bring it to an audience would be premature. The material is certainly interesting. Finding my way into the core of it is proving more challenging than I thought it would be. Maybe I’m naive.

Art is most certainly process and pursuing a diary-like film is a daily reminder of that. (I first heard that term, “diary”, as associated with film, when I met the understated and somewhat under-the-radar filmmaker, Philip Hoffman, in the 80’s. His fine work exemplifies the tradition of gathering and cutting footage over time to tell highly personal stories in innovative ways.) I’m also reminded that my impatience to put work out to an audience and to get on with the next project is wrong-headed. Sorry for the truism, but to cut corners is to do a disservice to the material.

Jennifer suggested as well that there’s the sense in the present cut that I’m somehow withholding myself. This is true, if ironic; after all, the film’s supposed to be (quasi-)autobiographical. How is it that I’m withholding from my own story? I’m not seeking an afternoon-talk-show-style confessional, mind you; merely honesty. As the remarkable graphic novelist, Chris Ware suggests in creating his work, he seeks emotional and visual clarity. Yup.

My friend, Hubert Sauper, made a big splash with his documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, back in the mid-oughts. He’s been working on his new documentary, We Come as Friends, for much longer than I have on Terminal Device. I read a preliminary treatment for Hubert’s film six or seven years ago (it was then called Entente Cordiale). He has been shooting and editing it in earnest since 2010. Darwin’s Nightmare previously took several years to create. It just goes to show that some documentarists shoot for a very long time before there’s sufficient material to make their film. The great Frederick Wiseman was wont to shoot hundreds of thousands of feet of 16mm footage over months and months (he likely shoots digitally now, like the rest of us, but the principle holds). Reportedly, for some of his projects, he ended up with something over 500,000 feet, or well over 200 hours, before starting an editing process that would take more than a year of full-time work.

editing sessionSo; more speed, less haste. Less impatience and more imagination. Lose the rigidity and seek transparency.

Documentaries are hard to make.

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I Sing the Body Myoelectric

I interviewed the prosthetist, Ken Roczniak, for Terminal Device, who’s affable and articulate. We shot B-roll footage of the shop at West Park where Ken works, and where prosthetic limbs are fabricated. We saw various members of Ken’s team at their tasks. He recounted an anecdote about a patient who initially rejected Kenhis hook-fitted prosthesis, but later came around to wearing it and appreciated its usefulness. This points up that amputees must select what type of prosthesis to wear, if any (as that’s an option too; I’ve known a couple of upper body amputees who choose not to wear a prosthetic device).

At present, there are two available systems: body- or myoelectrically-powered. I’ve always worn the former. Body-powered means that the thing works when I push my residual arm (my “stump”) in the socket of the prosthesis, which action draws back a cable attached to the ‘thumb” of the terminal device and opens it up. This is called a voluntary-opening hook. There are voluntary-closing ones too; unlike mine, the default position of these devices is open. The base of my hook is wrapped with strong elastics. These force it closed when I release pressure. The prosthesis is simple and foolproof and this is part of the appeal of body-powered prosthetics; there’s not a whole lot that can go wrong with them.

Myoelectric arms are battery-powered and work with a system of sensors embedded in the socket. One learns to feather these sensors with the various muscles in one’s stump. The trick is to contract muscles separately, as the sensors instruct the arm to do different tasks, say, to open rather than to close the terminal device (which can be a hook but is more often a device designed to look like a hand). I once used a borrowed myo- for a short trial period to see if I was able to work its sensors and found it fairly straightforward.

myo testingThere are certainly interesting developments in upper body prosthetics, with technologists creating fully articulable fingers, naturalistic wrist motion, neurally-instructed prostheses, more reliable power systems, etc. The dream of marrying (wo)man and machine, a rather hoary sci-fi cliché, lives on. The problems with these limbs are myriad however, including their extraordinarily high cost (Ken showed me a fairly basic myo-electric arm they were working on that’s projected to cost the patient $80,000), their proclivity to break down, their weight, the noise they make, etc. (Here’s one writer’s thoughtful take on the current state of research and development in so-called bionic arms.)

You can watch on-line videos about many of these devices. Caution: much of what you’ll find is promotional. A big push for new technological solutions to prosthetics was made in the U.S., for example, as the Iraq war was unfolding (DARPA-inspired research). A myo fingersnumber of commercial companies (Touch Bionics, Bebionics, Otto Bock) are working in the prosthetic field and pushing the myoelectric solution.

In any case, you can count me among the skeptical. The reality is that the body-powered prosthesis is available to more people, cost-wise, more reliable, at least as if not more functional, and certainly more robust than myoelectrics. Ken suggests that amputees ideally should have one of each, that the two systems are appropriate for different tasks. This is probably true (I can’t properly grasp and manipulate a computer mouse with my hook, for example, but have seen demonstrations of that with a myoelectric hand). My question is; who’s going to pony up close to $100g to buy me one?

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Amputee Athletics

Ross, hockeyI’m sure readers of this blog who know me will understand that Terminal Device, as a roughly autobiographical film, wouldn’t be complete without including some sports content. So: the year I turned 40, I started playing hockey with a group of fully-able-bodied people (we still play, the group’s composition having changed blessedly little in the dozen years since). That put me in a position a couple of years later to try out for a national team made up of leg and arm amputees. At one point aspiring to paralympic status, this team is distinct from the better-known sledge hockey team. One must have at least one major joint missing or permanently incapacitated to qualify, and yet unlike the sledge hockey team, be able to stand on skates to play (so most of the ‘leg’ participants, for example, are below-the-knee amputees). When I tried out, the coach of the national stand-up amputee team was Paul Rosen, winner of paralympic gold in 2006 as the goalie for the sledge hockey team.

Team Canada photo by Mike Pochwat Photo By Mike Pochwat/2010I didn’t make the stand-up team—my inexperience told against me—but I had a fantastic time trying out and playing with a group of highly talented athletes. It opened my eyes to the manifold ways in which people can adapt equipment and technique for their particular body difference. Plus, who among my rec hockey-mates (this one guy aside, who joined us for a month or so and graced us with his still unbelievable skating prowess, the best I’ve ever witnessed) could boast they’d tried out for a Team Canada destined for world championship competition? Believe me, the guys who made the stand-up team were good. One of the top players earned a try-out with a major Junior A squad, despite his amputation. Indeed, at the time I skated with them, the captain of the team had played major Junior A hockey, prior to losing his leg in a motorcycle accident. You could barely tell he was missing a foot, so well did he skate.

That was my first sustained contact with fellow amputees, and it was an impressive and accomplished group to be among. I’ve kept in touch with Donnie Wade, Donnie - photo by Mike Pochwatthe chairman of the Canadian Amputee Hockey Committee. And I’ve recently had a chat with Marc Martel, a fellow arm amputee whose traumatic amputation 20 years ago hasn’t stopped him from becoming a regular participant in Ironman competitions. That’s a remarkable feat; sure, I can sort of imagine biking and running for distances that would flatten most of us, but swimming 4 k, at speed, with only one arm? Thanks, but I’d be sure to drown.

biking GerrardBiking and hockey are my preferred, go-to physical activities. I use my bike as my main mode of transportation and I consciously try to push my pace beyond that of most commuters, as otherwise my exercise regime would be sorely lacking. Hockey is what it is for many of us; love-hate. That is, it is a great, demanding, exhilarating, supremely fun, often frustrating sport to play, which gives rise to a priceless camaraderie and sense of community. As a player, I count myself as one of the weaker links in the chain of my fully-bodied mates, but that doesn’t stop me from wholeheartedly giving it my all.

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