Professional Football/Hockey- Equipment Manager LA Sharks: 1972 Regina Pats: 1974 Sk. Roughriders: 1979-2008
Balfour Tech (now Balfour Collegiate) '69/'70
I’ve had lots of memories as I worked in sports, predominantly though as the Equipment Manager for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, but the biggest decision I had to make took place at the end of my 30-year career. Before I can begin to share that moment, let me share from the beginning at Balfour Tech High-School where I was learning the skill of carpentry.
During these years in High-School, besides going to school, I also had part time jobs working with the City of Regina, hockey teams during Winter and football teams during the Summers. I stayed busy working all year long as I went to school and aspirations to attend College, but my grades weren’t good enough and so I stayed in Regina. Around 1971 or 1972 the Los Angeles Sharks held their Hockey Training Camp in Regina and I helped them for about 2 weeks (one of my part time jobs). In that same year a few months later, the Sharks had fired one of their trainers and were looking for someone to help with their organization. They remembered me but didn’t have my contact, so they reached out to a guy who was a scout for them, Jim Bzdel, who connected us together. He also was a member of the Senior Hockey Team. So, at around 20 years old, I was hired by the Sharks to work as an assistant trainer/equipment manager and about to move to a big city and change was coming soon, starting with my commute to work. On my first day of work in LA I got lost going from my home which was across the street from Disneyland to our hockey rink “The LA Sports Arena” which was across the street from the football stadium “ The LA Coliseum.” On day #2, I also was lost as I was driving on the California Highway, eventually getting pulled over. As the officer was approaching my white van with his hand on his gun the entire time, I about crapped myself. Coming from a small town with short commutes and very little crime, I was about to realize that this city was much different. The officer talked to me through the window and went on to tell me that I not only was in a bad area, but that he was unsure who might be in my white van and so that’s why he took precaution with the hand on the gun! Wow! I learned ultimately though that I was going too slow and that’s why I was being pulled over. By the end of it, everything turned out fine and the officer sent me in the right direction and told me to go faster or move to the slow lane!
Though I had a couple of interesting first few days, this was officially my first full-time job in sports before I ended up going back to Regina to work with the Pats, Rams and Saskatchewan Roughriders. It was here, working with the Riders for almost 30 years when I had to confront a decision that would affect my life, but before I share, there is more so you can understand why it took so long.
People always ask which championship was most memorable that I was a part of, and my answer isn’t what most would think; winning The Memorial Cup with the Pats. The 2 Grey Cups, ’89 and ’08 were both great, but didn’t compare. When you think about how many teams are trying to win the Memorial Cup, it makes you realize that this was a special moment. To win a Grey Cup, you currently have 9 teams competing, whereas winning The Memorial Cup, you have hundreds of kids from 3 or 4 leagues trying to win. The Memorial Cup was a memorable Championship, but there was a moment while with the Riders that also memorable, but not one of celebration. This moment took place when I had a visitor at my door who needed comforted and needed my friendship.
My friend for many years, Bobby Jurasin #71 just got released from the team. I remember Bobby coming over that night and it was tough on everyone, but especially my 6-year-old daughter (they had a special bond). Bobby was a great player, loved by Regina and he would be missed by many. It’s hard when you develop friendships over many years and then just like that, they get cut. It’s a tough business that I was in, but I always did my best treating everyone the best I could at all hours of the day including this one. As the Equipment Manager, I was constantly taking care of others. That was my job. Washing clothes, sewing uniforms, making sure coaches and players always had what they needed. It was a time-consuming job that had me showing up first (along with the training staff) in the mornings to be the very last one out in the evening. I took care of others so much and really forgot to think of myself, especially my health. Instead of spending any extra time to prepare a healthy meal, I’d just order a pizza or pick up a hamburger with a Coke because that extra time was needed for my job! I had diabetes during this time and continued to ignore my own needs and serve others until I woke up one day and needed a change. I was taking pills which turned into injections which should’ve turned into an insulin pump, but I got lucky and didn’t get to that stage. I would ask myself how was I going to care for my family if I couldn’t care for myself? So, after almost 30 years, I finally made a major adjustment in my life with my diet. Instead of eating the normal garbage I did for so long, I finally started to eat three healthy meals a-day. My new eating plan just in the very first week made me feel so much better. My blood pressure has come down and my A1C has lowered 2 different times (doctors say that isn’t normally what happens). I had to look in the mirror, acknowledge that I needed to change, and then acted and I’m in a better place. My good friend Kato though, who was the Equipment Manager with the BC Lions who I called my CFL Brother, wasn’t so lucky. Kato also had Diabetes and I can remember talking to Kato about his diet while at a coffee shop while their team was visiting Regina. I heard he hadn’t changed his old eating habits and I was trying to convince him to change. It’s never too late to do something about your situation in life but if you choose to do nothing, the results aren’t always the best. Kato was a good guy and I wish he was still with us today.
I think that one of the things I learned is that your job isn't everything. You get too tied up and you forget yourself and your family. You can't help anyone else if you're not healthy enough to help yourself. Take time to look in the mirror and look after yourself. I would've taken it more seriously. As I was getting ready to retire, instead of going to McDonald's I'd get a supper from Kathy and would eat that instead. Even when you're working and must stay late, you need to be responsible to yourself. It's easier to do fast food but in the long run it's not the right thing to do. That’s my advice to others.
Norm, Equipment Managers are always the favorites amongst athletes and you were no exception! I'm honored to have gotten to know you over the years and want to say congratulations with your career and serving others. Sports teams have so many components to it that many don't see and you were a part of that whole thing. Like you said, you had to get there early and be the last to leave as you took care of all of us players and coaches. You did so much and I'm not sure if I've thanked you for your help. I am thankful for your friendship and work while you were always there to help out whether it be fixing a helmet, sewing a jersey up or helping us figure out which shoes to wear (1997 Grey Cup in Edmonton/ice field)! Thanks also for sharing your story with us about your unhealthy eating habits and how that turned into Diabetes. A lot of times it might be too late to take care of ourselves physically but you were fortunate to have a wife who started packing your lunch so you could be more healthy! Like you said to me, it's never too late for those who might be dealing with a similar situation as you or dealing with really anything else in life! It's never too late! Thanks again Norm and I look forward to seeing you in Regina soon! Gary Rogers