Hockey players are regarded as being tough.
Take a puck in the face and lose a tooth — just spit it out and keep playing. Take a stick to the face and gush out blood — get eight stitches and return to the game the next period.
Lori Jo Geshel exemplifies a hockey player. However, it’s her off-ice determination that is extremely admirable and courageous.
Six and a half months after sustaining a lift-threatening boating accident, Geshel was miraculously back on the ice in February for the Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships in Eagle River, Wisconsin.
“It’s for the love of the game,” said Cheryl Ruohonen, Geshel’s longtime friend and pond hockey teammate. “She loves to play.”
Geshel, who lives in Painesdale, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, joined her husband and some friends for a casual boat ride on July 19, 2015, on the Porch Channel between Houghton and Hancock. The group decided to stop and say hi to some friends. When they approached the dock, the wake forced the 16-foot, open-bow boat to get submerged under the dock, which then crashed down on top of Geshel. Her husband and friend jumped into the water to try and save her.
“I could tell I was being crushed and it wasn’t stopping,” Geshel said. “I just continued to feel bones cracking and hear bones cracking, and I was in a lot of pain. I lost consciousness then. Right before I lost consciousness I thought, ‘Oh, this is it. I’m a goner.’ I was happy to regain consciousness after getting out from underneath the dock.”
After about five minutes in the water, Geshel was pulled to safety and transported via ambulance to the hospital. She had broken all her ribs, shattered a collarbone, had a broken scapula and punctured one lung and badly bruised the other. Geshel spent the next week in the intensive care unit at the UP Health System – Marquette, and was in the hospital for a total of three weeks.
After it was touch and go for the first few days, doctors told Geshel she would have a good shot for a full recovery. She was given a timetable of one year to get back to 100 percent. Geshel wanted to be completely healed in six months. The Pond Hockey Championships were approaching quickly in February.
“When she got hurt, it was like, oh my gosh,” Ruohonen said. “First of all, when we found out she was going to live, when she told us her goal was to play pond again, that was going to be her motivation. The girl was homebound for months — every broken rib and just the pain she was in, just amazing.”
Geshel, 53, didn’t know if it was an attainable goal to be able to lace up her skates and get on the ice so quickly. But she wasn’t going to let anything hold her back.
“Having a goal motivated me,” said Geshel, who is a kindergarten teacher at South Range Elementary School in Adams Township. “I just didn’t want to sit back and stay in bed even though I was sore and tired and was hurting. I thought, ‘I can probably do this.’”
Since the accident, Geshel has dedicated herself to attending physical therapy two times per week for three hours. She had to get her upper body back to normal.
“After every doctor appoint I would say to Cheryl, ‘You better find a replacement,’” Geshel said. “She would say, ‘Nope, the spot’s yours until the day before. If you can’t play, you can’t play.’”
Less than one month out from Pond Hockey Championships, Geshel decided put on her skates and helmet and get out on the ice. Things went smoothly despite a little muscle soreness.
“She didn’t look like she missed a beat at all,” Ruohonen said.
The Sunday prior to the beginning of the tournament, Geshel put on all her hockey equipment. She was ready to play.
There was just one problem: Her doctor hadn’t yet cleared her to play hockey. She didn’t end up asking until three and a half weeks after the pond hockey tournament.
Geshel competed for the team UP Yours in the Women’s Bronze 35+ Division. The first two years, the team didn’t win a game in the tournament, but in 2015 it advanced to the semifinals. Coming into this year’s event, UP Yours was confident the fourth year was its time to win the championship. Geshel wanted to help win the title for her teammates.
“They supported me all along with emails and visits,” Geshel said. “I give them credit for motivating me and keeping me part of the team.”
Geshel, who figures she was about 90 percent healthy, played in all four of her team’s games as UP Yours outscored its opponents 77-9. Geshel put quite the scare into her teammates early in the tournament when she fell on the ice.
“Right away we’re like, ‘Are you hurt?’ She goes, ‘No,’” Ruohonen said. “She just starts crawling to the bench and says, ‘Somebody go. Somebody go.’”
Geshel’s muscles were still weak, so when she fell it was easier for her to just crawl to the bench. The rest of the weekend, when Geshel fell her teammates didn’t worry and just sent in a sub.
UP Yours played phenomenally in the tournament and beat Divas 5-2 in the championship game.
“It was icing on the cake,” Geshel said.
Geshel was emotional after her long journey back to the pond.
“When we won, she was just crying,” Ruohonen said. “She was just like, ‘I think I finally realized what I really did accomplish to get here.’ I think it really hit her that she worked her butt off. She probably still has some cracked ribs, but the girl’s just tough.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.