An athlete completes a long journey to achieve his goals. The days of practice in the backyard or driveway, that nobody sees other than those closest to him. The sacrifices they make along the way are often seen by few. So who shares the journey, rides with them on every high and more importantly every low? I recently chatted with Ceri Walker about the journey of her son, Nathan Walker and the pursuit of his dreams.
“How could you do that?”, my answer has always been “How could I have not?”.
Craig Tonks: As a Mother how hard has it been to let Nathan follow/pursue his dreams?
Ceri Walker: There have definitely been highs and lows to letting Nathan follow his dreams. I remember the day so clearly, we were at a tournament in Melbourne and he said “I’ve got to be on the ice more, I have to go overseas, that’s what I want to do”. Nathan was 13 at the time. Before I knew it, Nathan and I had landed in the Czech Republic. Ivan Manco played a huge part in getting Nathan to where he is today along with Branislav Kromka, who was a Slovakian Coach at Blacktown and Nathan’s first ice hockey Coach when Nathan played for the Blacktown Flyers.
CT: It sounds like everyone pitched in to make it all happen?
CW: Actually there are so many people that have been so supportive and helped get Nathan to where he is today, the Stephenson’s, the Todd’s, the Cliff’s, the Kelly’s, the Milson’s, who all assisted with things like car pooling, managing, coaching. The support was amazing when I look back. Blacktown ice hockey rink was his second home, the Wilson’s first saw him step onto the ice at the age of 6.
Nathan attended try outs in both Slovakia and the Czech Republic, three weeks into our trip and Nathan and I stayed in a lovely villa in Czech, two tram rides away from the rink that ultimately became his home. The Coach couldn’t speak any English so Nathan had to take directions from hand gestures and watching the other players. Nathan was under trial for a week and on the Friday the Coach said “Yes, we would like to Nathan into our team” in Czech, we had no idea what he he said. The Coach tipped his hat at me, I was guessing that was an “OK, he did good”!! HC Vítkovice Steel is an ice hockey club based in Ostrava in the Czech Republic, competing in the Czech Extraliga. The club was founded in 1928. Branko was in Ostrava too and looked out for him as an older brother would do. Our flights were booked to return on the Sunday. Now to find somewhere for him to stay!! An ice hockey family offered to put Nathan up, the family couldn’t speak any English and Nathan couldn’t speak any Czech so the idea was that they taught each other their respective languages. The family were amazing and took care of him until he moved into College accommodation that was closer to the rink. Nathan is now fluent in the Czech/Slovak language and can speak some Russian!
On the Sunday I boarded a train to Vienna to catch my return flight and the whole time I kept thinking “What have I done? I have just left my child in a country that don’t speak any English and with a family I hardly know”. It was awful. We would call Nathan every day and there would be tears from both sides, if he wanted to come home, we would talk about booking a flight and call each other the next day and then he would say “I’m OK now Mum, I’m just so homesick, I miss you all so much”. We cried so many tears over the years, I still cry.
CT: Is it hard watching the highs and lows of Nathan’s career from afar?
CW: Yes it is. Wayne, Ryan & I have all been to visit him in Czech and America and had lots of fun times with him there, meeting the players, the families and the supporters. Of course, when the injury’s or illness occur, its the hardest time off all. Nathan went down with chicken pox going into the finals one year and of course this year was a hard one with his neck injury. He was devastated when the injury happened but he picked himself up, dusted himself off and got straight back on the ice as soon as the Specialist gave him the all clear. He’s one tough kid, I’ll give him that. Nathan also said I made a terrible Nurse!!
The Spengler Cup was amazing to watch on television. I ran around the room with Ryan and Tayla when he first scored, it was so emotional for us all. I used to get all excited when he sat in the penalty box because the cameras would zoom in and I would get to see him up close!! Now we get to watch all the games on television too, which is just fantastic.
The Youngstown Phantoms ice hockey team were amazing, a superb Management team that look after their players so well. I was really impressed at the way they looked after the team, just fantastic. When Nathan was injured I couldn’t have asked for them to be more supportive. The Bec’s were Nathan’s host family and took him in as one of their own.
CT: Has there been any “one piece of advice” you have given to Nathan as his mother?
CW: Don’t forget to brush your teeth.
CT: How do you help keep Nathan grounded in a professional sporting world with many ego’s?
CW: I don’t think Wayne or I ever needed to do that. Nathan has a way of keeping himself grounded, his brother, Ryan had a huge influence on getting him to where he is now, we always had a saying that if you have to tell people how good you are, then you can’t be that good.
CT: Do you plan to get to any games this year?
CW: Yes, Wayne and I are planning on going to America this season and we will definitely see every game that he plays whilst in Australia (July) for the American v Canada games. Really can’t wait for that. Very exciting for Nathan’s friends, family and supporters to be able to see him play here. I think Nathan will be a little nervous about it but Australia is his home and there is nothing better than playing in front of a home crowd.
CT: Do you think Nathan realises that he has set a path for young aussie kids to follow?
CW: It’s really a question that you would have to ask him. He would probably also say that it won’t be easy, you will have to work hard, very hard, you will miss being away from home, you will more than likely miss your best mates birthdays & family at Christmas but sacrifices are what you have to make and if you want something badly enough then they are worth the sacrifice. Nathan is still only 19 and yet he could write a book about his adventures, the family’s he has met, the different styles of hockey throughout the places he has played, the languages he has learnt and the friends he has made along the way. I don’t think that he would change any of that.
CT: Any thoughts of turning Manager Mum for a career?
CW: No! He has an awesome agent who does a far better job than I could ever. Anyway, you never stop being a Mum so there would be too much emotion in it for me. It’s the hardest thing in the world letting your kid go at such a young age, in an ideal world, Wayne and I would have accompanied him but we still had family here, jobs, a mortgage to pay. So Nathan didn’t have a choice, he had to do it by himself.
People have asked me so many times “How could you do that?”, my answer has always been “How could I have not?”.
Photo credit: Sweetest Hockey On Earth’s Kyle Mace