This Hockey Mom Will Motivate You to Get on the Rink

Seija Parnanen-Matthews was inspired to hit the icewhen her oldest son started hockey. Being a role model for her kid motives this single parent to stay playful and active.

Seija Parnanen-Matthews didn’t lace up hockey skates until she was 38. Her on-ice conversion happened about the same time her eldest son, now 11, started playing. Rather than warming the benches while shivering in the stands, she decided to try the sport herself.

In 2018, she joined a Kelowna co-ed recreational hockey team before moving to a women’s league. Parnanen-Matthews now plays hockey every week for 10 months of the year. Her teammates—some of whom have been playing for years, while others are just learning—range in age from their early 20s to late 40s. Because Parnanen-Matthews had figure skated competitively into her teens, she was confident she could excel at the sport if she put her mind to it.

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“I make an effort to stay active,” says Parnanen-Matthews, who is now 42. “I think it sets a good example for my kids.” Growing up in Gold River, a small town on Vancouver Island, Parnanen-Matthews had her own sports mentor—her dad. George Parnanen was the phys ed and health teacher for the local high school, and she credits him with showing her how to throw a football and swing a golf club, and for encouraging her to try out for the volleyball and basketball teams. Her main passion in sports, though, was ice skating.

“Dad would take me every Friday to the rink in Gold River,” she recalls. “He would skate backwards and guide me. I became really comfortable on the ice; it’s second nature to me.” Today, Parnanen-Matthews enjoys the cardio exercise, the challenge of learning stick-handling skills and being part of a team. She also loves it when her boys are in the stands, and says all their friends think it’s “so cool” their mom plays hockey.

Unfortunately, George never got to watch his daughter play. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and died just 10 months later. Parnanen-Matthews says that playing hockey during his cancer journey gave her comfort and support. The sport has also helped her grieve. “I feel so much closer to him when I play. I imagine he’s watching me,” she says. “My boys do the same. They know Grandpa is at every game of ours cheering us on.”

Seija Parnanen Matthews Photos Bh4Image: Minted Photography

TRY IT ON “As I got older, I really started to miss skating,” says Parnanen-Matthews. Not only did she get back on the ice, she also broke through it, cold plunging in Okanagan Lake. She does this at least once a week all winter long to stay present and grounded. After, she’ll have tea by the lake, which always has a calming effect. Team captain Parnanen-Matthews strives to be a positive sports role model for her sons, like her father was for her. She hopes early exposure to sports will rub off on her boys, and that they’ll benefit from the positive impact that exercise and teamwork has on physical and mental health.

Learn Hockey As An AdultImage: Minted Photography

LEARNING CURVE The skating part of hockey has been easy. It’s the stick handling, hand-eye coordination and cardiovascular endurance that have delivered a happy challenge on the ice. “I’m still learning and growing in the sport, but I’ve come a long way,” she says. “When my boys watch me play, it’s their turn to give me pointers!”

Seija Parnanen Matthews Photos Bh5Image: Minted Photography

CHARACTER STUDY One thing Parnanen-Matthews loves about sports is how playing—and losing—builds resilience. “When I take my kids out to hockey, especially my oldest, I say to him, ‘I really do hope you have a few failures this year because those are the games where you will learn the most.’”

Seija Parnanen Matthews Photos Bh2Image: Minted Photography

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE “My life is at the rink and I love every minute of it,” says Parnanen-Matthews. It’s not in her nature to be a spectator, but she enjoys sitting in the stands during her sons’ practices and games and catching up with other parents. Watching them grow in the sport also inspires her to improve each time she plays.

Seija Parnanen Matthews Photos Bh2Image: Minted Photography

DINNER PARTIES Family meals that fuel the body and mind are important to Parnanen-Matthews. She aims to put fruit, fibre, salad and even seaweed on the plate: “The kids know there’s always gotta be a vegetable with everything I make,” she says with a laugh. But good conversation around the table matters most.

Seija Parnanen Matthews Photos Bh1Image: Minted Photography

INTERMISSION When the gloves are off and the hockey sticks stowed, it’s down time. Parnanen-Matthews loves bonding with her sons over movies, reading books with them at bedtime or just snuggling. Parenting two active boys is busy work, so she cherishes these quiet moments.

Seija Parnanen Matthews Photos Bh3Image: Minted Photography

PARTING GIFT After Parnanen-Matthews’s father died, she found hockey gear that he had been saving for presents for the boys, plus some of his sports memorabilia, including his whistle and jacket. Now, every time she and the kids play hockey, it feels like his legacy lives on.

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada