Her Mom Dies and a Daughter's Hockey Play Helps to Heal a Family's Grief

Wulf family.jpeg

My friend and colleague at Sports Illustrated, Steve Wulfwrote about Elizabeth, his hockey-playing daughter who is ending a remarkable on-ice career at Middlebury College, and his late wife, Bambi Bachman Wulf, a friend, too, since our days at Sports Illustrated, and Elizabeth's three siblings and other family member and friends who encircled her after her mother died early in her college years. With their presence, they infused her mom's fiercely spirited devotion to sports into the games Elizabeth played – and by gathering at this rink, together they began to heal their grief. 

This story's title – "As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal" – hints at the essence of Steve's evocative tale about loss and the power of sports to knit together his family with newly found strength. Steve shows how his family, holding sports at its core, summons through Elizabeth's hockey the joy of family being together in their deep and abiding love for Bambi, who left their lives through illness much too soon. They settle into the familiarity of family rituals at the rink as Steve, his grown children, and his and Bambi's first grandchild, root for Elizabeth and her team. In their togetherness, woven by the threads of love they share for sports, they honor and remember their missing family member whose spirit resides in them.

Here's how Steve describes the first game of Elizabeth's hockey season after her mother had died during that summer:

For that first game of the season, Friday, Nov. 17, we descended upon Middlebury from many different directions. John and Abby flew up from Washington, Bo drove up from Philadelphia, Eve hightailed it out of Bristol and my sister Karen headed west from Cape Cod. Me, I was in a such a hurry that I got a speeding ticket for going too fast through Hubbardton, Vermont.

Bo put a HERE WE ARE placard in the seat adjacent to Bambi’s. We waited for the introductions of the starting lineups and heard announcer Liza Sacheli summon “No. 7, from Larchmont, New York, Elizabeth Wulf” out to the center spot. She fist-bumped goalie Lin Han first, then the rest of the starters.

What was different about the introductions this time was that the players all had stickers affixed to the backs of their helmets. On them was a beautiful logo designed by Maddie Winslow’s mother, Olivia — a heart with wings and the initials JBW, Jane Bachman Wulf.

After the anthems, we scurried to the other side of the rink, to the less comfortable concrete steps on the offensive end. It’s a routine borne of both superstition and a better view of Elizabeth at work. Not so weird, really. What is strange is that we don’t sit together, I guess because we don’t want to contract each other’s anxiety.
— ESPN W, As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal
Elizabeth Wulf.jpeg

A bit later in his story, Steve delivers us to the team's championship game.

Kenyon Arena was fairly packed on Sunday to see if Middlebury could win another NESCAC title, Mandigo’s 10th, and the team’s third straight — a feat that had never before been accomplished in NESCAC. I savored Elizabeth’s last spin around home ice. (Sigh.)

She later told me that just before they took the ice for the introductions, Mandigo tugged on her ponytail and said, “Bambi’s gonna help us out today.”

For one final time at Kenyon Arena, we listened to “from Larchmont, New York,” and watched her touch the other starters with her glove. Then, like hardwired birds, we made our roosts on the concrete seats at the other end of the rink. The Mammoths came out strong, dominating the first half of the first period. But Lin Han made some clutch saves, and Middlebury revived itself. At the end of the first period, the score was 0-0.
— ESPNW, As Strong As Mom: How sports helped a family heal

I urge you to read Steve's story to find out how this game ends – and Elizabeth's role in its score.

To end my own blog post, there is only one image to share. Its words speak volumes about the young woman I knew at Sports Illustrated when we worked together in the 1970s. Known to us as Bambi, she was Jane at birth, and in her happiest days she was known as Mom.

 This is the seat where Bambi always sat in to watch Elizabeth warm up on the home ice of Kenyon Arena.

This is the seat where Bambi always sat in to watch Elizabeth warm up on the home ice of Kenyon Arena.

I choose to have Steve"s opening paragraph end my blog post: 

A few hours before the opening game of the 2017-18 Middlebury College women’s hockey season, a senior center for the team sat in Kenyon Arena’s Seat 7, Row AA. It was the same seat that her mother liked to sit in while watching warm-ups, and the coach of the Panthers, Bill Mandigo, had just shown her the plaque he had affixed to it in tribute to her mother, who had died between last season and the one about to start. The plaque read: ALWAYS WATCHING.
— ESPNW, As Strong as Mom: How sports helped a family heal