It’s time to take this roller coaster of a journey overseas to a suburb of Paris, France.  This part of the story is a little long so I am splitting up my time in France into multiple segments.

Crohns and Colitis Disease affects 1-5 Canadians.  This auto-immune disease is common between the ages 15-30 years of age.  There are many variables which are trigger points for feelings of discomfort that lead to internal flare ups and inflammation within the body .  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Crohns and Colitis Disease,   Some dissipate factors which lead to intestinal flare ups include chronic stress, poor treatment, and medication.

As mentioned at the end of the third part of this series, I was prescribed an additional prescription that was called in last minute by my (GI) to pick up before I left for France.   This drug would allow me to function and perform given my current health condition.  I was prescribed a corticosteroid called Budesonide. This steroid helps with inflammation in the body and is used to treat mild to moderate Crohn’s disease.  This steroid would not only become consequential to my playing status but also to my general state of health.  Keep in mind, I mentioned that budesonide treats MILD to MODERATE Crohn’s disease to help with discomfort and reduce flareups.    I was soon to experience an acute onset of this disease which the corticosteroid medications prescribed, although helping me function for the time being was damaging my body.  It would be detrimental to my well-being and ultimately put my life in jeopardy…

There was much uncertainty moving forward as I was a little bit nervous about my health situation.  How serious was my condition?  I often thought. The day I left, My mother helped schedule an appointment to see a medical professional in France ……..that was the plan….

This illness had come on so sudden.  I didn’t have any time to process my condition, let alone disclose any information to my agent or the team for that matter.  I  went back and forth debating with myself about disclosing my health condition to the team and my agent OR to keep it under wraps with the hope that I could  battle through until the end of the season.  Nonetheless I was feeling very uneasy as I didn’t even have time to process the diagnosis.   I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.   Considering I had yet to be introduced to any representative of the hockey club I decided not to disclose any information until properly advised of the next steps once I had my appointment with the medical gastro medical professional in France. At the time I believed that my condition could be medically managed while still being able to play.

Four time zones, a twelve hour flight later I had landed in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.  I barely slept on the plane, anxious to land and get settled in.  I collected my baggage, changed my shirt and brushed my teeth in the airport bathroom.  One of the team reps greeted me at the terminal with a Van bus of the Club. A few other players from the team were inside the vehicle who arrived from other spots in Europe that same day.   They were some of the new European imports that had just flown in earlier from Czech republic, Slovakia and Slovenia. The airport was roughly a thirty minute drive from our destination, a little suburb outside of Paris.  I was exhausted from the flight.  A few introductions and small talk were made between my new teammates and I in the van.  I was looking forward to settling in and relaxing.  I was running on fumes.

The team rep didn’t speak English and my French language comprehension was at a basic level, (intermediate at best). I had studied French since I was a child having taken the language courses in elementary, high school and for a language requirement in university. A person can study a language in its highest form.   One can learn proper verbiage,  develop an extensive vocabulary etc.  but Interestingly enough, language class does not prepare you for the different accents and dialects which are embedded in the language itself.   Think about the English language. There are various accents in the English speaking world that are completely different in nature.  Some can be difficult to understand even for an English native speaker. Different cultural slangs and dialects can  range from region to region.  Now imagine learning a language at its highest form as a non-native without being immersed In the culture or environment , then travel to that country, and immerse yourself in a group setting.  A pub, a restaurant.  You will hear a range of different accents and dialects that will make your head spin.  The only true way to learn a language is immersing yourself in the culture and to learn by trial and error.  Make the effort to speak, listen and understand. 

  For myself, aside from basic comprehension and communication skills, I was completely lost in a group setting.  I had no idea what anyone was talking about and some players and team reps did not know much English.  The other European imports who were with this club had played in France for a few seasons and were already culturally acclimated.  The Canadians were French Canadians.  I was the only player on the team who had never played in France let alone hockey in Europe. 

  I was the last to drop off from the airport and the team rep mentioned something about meeting the following day.  He spoke for a couple minutes but that’s the only comprehension I could muster up from the interaction. He dropped me off at a townhouse in an inner city suburb of Paris.  The apartment had 4 bedrooms but no one was home.  I didn’t have a phone yet but fortunately, I had some sort of communication with an internet connection to touch base with my parents after having landed. After a few hours I received email correspondence from my agent and coach about my living situation and the scheduled meeting point for the first team meeting.  I was to be living with another player and the coaching staff for up to a week until our apartments for the season were ready.  They were yet to arrive and were scheduled to land the following day. 

The five week training camp began that week after our first team meet and greet. Our arena wasn’t ready yet so we had training camp in a town about thirty minutes away. We took team vans and set up shop and stored our equipment in the dressing rooms at the arena. The first week  we had one on ice practise and a workout every day.  The second week we had two practise sessions per day which included two ice times and a workout.   Including myself, we had five North American imports, (Two French Canadians, myself from Vancouver and two other players from Ontario). The rest of the team had imports from Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia while the remaining spots were made up of French native players.  For the most part it was a good group of guys, but at training camp players are fighting for jobs and roles on the team so as a new face, and a rookie, it takes time to fit in and become acclimatised into a team environment.  

As the camp went on I had good days and bad days.  The steroids were doing their job. I was extremely naïve and in hindsight It wasn’t very smart for me to even attempt to play but that being said   I didn’t know the extent of my condition.  I didn’t want to worry my family but It was time to come clean to my team about my condition.  I was not performing up to standards.  We would have food catered between ice times but I could barely eat.  It was strange all I craved was bread (baguette) and sugar, (Nutella).  Every morning I ate it like it was going out of style.   We were running two a days including off ice training and I was running on fumes as I battled through camp .  I didn’t have much pain but felt bloated for weeks. Looking back I assume the steroids were  keeping the inflammation down but my caloric intake and caloric burn was not adding up for a high performance athlete.    Two a day practises I should be in a state of “see food eat food” as its called to replenish the body after training but that was not the case and it was worrisome as the days went on. 

  My mind was playing some tricks on me,  I really still hadn’t come to terms with what was truly wrong with me which left me with uncertainty and extreme anxiety. The other issue that added to my anxiety on top of being in a new place, and my current state of health was the language barrier. It was difficult for me to chime in.  Language class only gets you so far when dialects and accents come into the play.

 Furthermore, as aforementioned regarding my eating habits, the team reps and coaching staff definitely found it strange that I was barely eating after training all day.  I am sure they thought I was a weird dude, barely engaging with teammates, tired , no appetite. Does this guy even really want to be here? Finally I had to come clean about my appetite and my condition.  Along with the coaching staff and some players from the team I came clean about my state of health and that I had just been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease.  Although they were concerned about my health, as a rookie coming in on a contract is probably not what they wanted to hear.  Teams have limited import roster spots and I was up front with the club that I could manage the condition and it shouldn’t affect my playing ability. At the time I really didn’t know the extent of the illness and the volatile swings I was soon to experience concerning my health.  I also disclosed that I was on a corticosteroid medication that kept inflammation down in my intestine which helped me play until I sought treatment. I reassured the coaching staff that I had an appointment scheduled with a renowned medical professional in Paris who would be putting my on a treatment plan which would be manageable for the duration of the season. ( So I thought)  All the coach heard was “steroid.”  I really had no idea the severity of my condition and what I was putting my body through.   To make things even more interesting, I found out later for whatever reason that the medication I was prescribed and currently taking at the time to combat inflammation was banned by IIHF (international Ice Hockey Federation)….I was definitely digging myself a bigger hole , with regards to being on the teams good side as an entry level rookie.  The team flew me over and paid for my flight, rather than sending me home immediately once this information surfaced , I am sure they wanted to see out my playing ability, how I fit in with the team before they made a decision on whether to keep me around or send me home.  In addition to the club becoming aware of my health , I had to disclose to my agent from Switzerland,  The group was not happy as my failure to disclose the information did not reflect very well as reputation is at stake.  but as a young kid , what else do you do?  Your dream of playing overseas is right there at your finger tips.   At the time the rest remained to be seen.  It was time to move into my new apartment and prepare to head over to Eastern France to a city called Nantes for a Pre-season tournament.



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