Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Meet Two of my Heroes: Kary Carkner and Pam Helmer

“I love playing hockey. I love watching hockey. I love people watching me play hockey. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE HOCKEY!! Did I mention that I love hockey?”

– Hero The Hero in Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream

As a new year quickly approaches, and I attempt to breathe some new life into The Voice of Sport (it’s been a little neglected since I became a dad two years ago), I can’t help but look back as I look forward. For instance, it is hard to believe that it was almost 6 years ago that I sent an email off to the Hershey Bears with an interview request for their captain, Bryan Helmer. A lot has changed since then!


Since that first interview, Bryan and his wife Pam have become great friends to my wife Dianne and myself. So has Pam’s sister Kary and her husband Matt Carkner. And it is their perseverance, passion, dedication to the game and more importantly, dedication to their family, which has inspired me to continue with my passion for writing and for creating music too. To be quite honest, I know I’m a better person because I have these wonderful people as my friends.


Pam, Kary and Hero
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
Which brings me to today’s topic – meet two of my heroes! While it was many months ago, it seems like it was only yesterday that Pam and Kary sent me an email asking if I could help them with a project they hoped to pursue… It was a small step towards the many big entrepreneurial steps that would soon follow! So, it was with a tear in my eye that I first read the recently published Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream.


Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream, written by Kary and Pam, and illustrated by another friend of mine, Steven Snider, is a truly remarkable read. With beautifully illustrated images, using a vivid colour selection, Kary and Pam’s story comes to life as the book’s hero, Hero The Hero, learns several valuable lessons on a journey to the North Pole to play on the greatest outdoor rink you’ll ever see. With a forward eloquently written by world-renowned hockey historian Liam Maguire, this book will entertain parents and children of all ages for years to come.


In many ways, Hero’s adventure mirrors the journey of Hero’s creators. The new authors are pursuing their passion and following their dreams, just as our young hero does and will do in future books. There have been many triumphs for the Carkner and Helmer families, but like all of us, some defeats too. And it was in tragedy, that Hero emerged and came to be.


Inspired to begin writing after the unexpected death of the hero in their life, their father, as well as the heroic resiliency of their mother, Kary and Pam have now embarked on a writing career that will surely flourish and help children of all ages discover the heroes in their family, neighbourhood and in the world around them.


When I have interviewed Bryan or Matt here at The Voice of Sport, they have always been very open and honest with their answers, which has allowed me to show a different side to professional hockey; hockey players as dads, as husbands, as fans of the game and as active members of their community. My conversations with Pam and Kary are always filled with laughter (lots of laughter!!) and thankfully, the same openness was present in our first interview together (the first of many!).


Pam and Kary at NY Islanders book signing
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
“I’m actually a little shy,” Pam admitted as we began to discuss the reaction to their new career. “But it definitely feels good to have people acknowledge us and acknowledge the book!”


“The best reaction has been our own children,” she continued. “My daughter, Rylan, after hearing the Be A Hero song (written by Pam and recorded by Skinner – available oniTunes), said, “Oh my gosh mom, I love it. That was so good! You’re a songwriter and an author? I’m sooo going to brag about you at school!”


“We’ve had a lot of people say, you should be so proud,” Kary added.  “They are just really happy and excited for us. I think a lot of people respect the fact that Pam and I are stay-at-home moms - we have inspired them!”


Having been part of the hockey world for several years and as a stay-at-home dad myself, I can tell you that Pam and Kary are more than stay-at-home moms. They are strong women that have been important contributors to their husbands’ hockey careers, they have been great role models for their children and they are very active in every community in which they have lived.


With the schedule for Bryan and Matt sending them out on the road for lengthy periods, there is a lot on their to-do list at times (Bryan is currently an assistant coach with the Hershey Bears after 20-seasons of pro hockey, and Matt is a defenseman with the New York Islanders). So, unlike most households, Pam and Kary have dealt with the added pressure of trades, free agency and injuries over the years, issues that can complicate their lives in an instant.


One of the toughest things for moms to do is follow their own dreams, but as they start this new journey of their own, Pam and Kary have lots of support at home.


“Both Matt and Bryan, are so excited for us,” Kary explained. “They see the passion, they see how much Pam and I continue to talk about it and how much work we’ve put into the book.”


“One cool thing that happened recently,” she recalled. “Was that someone messaged me on Facebook asking about getting their copy of the book signed.  So, right away I wrote back and knowing they are into hockey, I said Matt would love to do that… They wrote back saying, ‘No, not by Matt, we want it autographed by you!’ It kind of caught me off guard.”


Bryan and Pam Helmer
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
In this part of the conversation, Pam shared something that really struck me about the teamwork that goes into a life in hockey and a life outside of hockey.


“It is kind of neat to see,” Pam said. “How I had to help my husband achieve his dream and along the way, I kind of put mine aside. But in doing that, I have realized a new dream. Now Bryan and Matt are able to help us, which is amazing!”


“It’s funny, I’ll be meeting people for the first time and they’ll already know everything about myself and the book because Bryan has already told them. I actually start blushing because I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, he’s telling people about us!’”


With countless hours going into writing and creating the book, and now publishing it and making it available (for ordering info, visit herothehero.com), the reaction has been extremely positive. Not only to the story itself and the illustrations, but also the main messages that accompany the book via social media – Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.


There is Hero as a character, someone that kids can be drawn to immediately, but it also allows the conversation to begin about everyday heroes and how to be a better person. Parents and kids can use the book to have conversations about heroes in the family or in their neighbourhood.


“People are really connecting with the goodness of the story – if goodness is a word,” Pam said with a laugh. “We tried to create something that was promoting the good that people do, promoting happiness, promoting every day heroes, and I think we did that. We certainly didn’t invent the concept of every day heroes, but we are really trying to highlight it.”


“People are constantly messaging me about the positive messages we are sharing on the Hero TheHero Facebook page,” Kary added. “They are sharing ideas, wanting to help share the happy, positive message we are trying to put out there. With everything that goes on in our lives and in the world, I think people look forward to our uplifting moments.”


“This all started out as just a script, a story without any illustrations, and we wondered if people would actually like it or actually want it,” Kary continued. “Now we know that they do, which is wonderful! We are getting emails and messages from parents saying that their child has already read the book 4 or 5 times in the first 2 days and they are talking about being a hero, talking about being a better person to get on Santa’s nice list, so we really have the feeling of ‘we did it!’”


Summertime Get-Together for Hero The Hero and TVOS
(Photo: The Voice of Sport)
As Pam and Kary prepared for the release of Hero’s Ho Ho Ho Hockey Dream, they also took a crash-course in the world of social media, with a few tips along the way from yours truly. With the world at our fingertips thanks to today’s technology, it was important for the two sisters to reach out and begin building a support system for Hero.


“It has been very interesting,” Pam said of joining Facebook for the first time. “My favourite part has been reconnecting with people from our past and seeing what everyone else is doing. It’s awesome to see how they are supporting us – we haven’t talked in years, but the connection has been made and that gets me all choked up.”


“And, another thing that gets me all choked up is seeing the addresses when we go to mail out books. I’ll know a person or know an address and think, hey, this used to be my postal code! It’s all the people we have met over the years and how they have supported us that has blown me away.”


As Kary explained, launching a social media component to Hero has made her more aware of how needed Hero’s inspirational messages are in people’s lives.


“It has definitely made me more aware of what is going on in the world,” she said. “So, I am trying to find uplifting things. I’m searching for good things for the Hero Facebook page, Twitter and Pinterest. I’m the type of person that doesn’t watch the news, I don’t want to read bad stuff, so while I am spending more time on the computer now, it’s for happy things and I think that people are enjoying that positive message.”


Matt and Kary Carkner
(Photo from Hero The Hero on Facebook)
Becoming authors and entrepreneurs (and even songwriters!) has provided a great teaching moment for Pam’s son Cade and daughter Rylan, as well as Kary’s sons Chase and Corbin. They are seeing firsthand, both from mom and from dad, how love and support, hard work and following your dreams can help you reach new heights.


“One of the best moments for me so far, was coming home from the printers with all the books,” Kary said. “Chase and Corbin came home from school and I gave them each a copy. They both immediately stopped what they were doing, read it front to back and then Chase read it again before he went to bed that night. He read it again the next morning too. I was surprised because he has heard the story at least 50 times, but he said, ‘I just can’t stop looking at it mom.’”


“He had been hearing so much about it and the day had finally arrived where it was all put together. Heading for school, both of them, on their own put a copy of the book in their book bag and said they wanted to show their teachers.”


In this part of the conversation, Kary and Pam both made a comment that will stick with me as my wife and I raise our daughter:


“Be the change you want to see in your child,” Kary said. “I think that I need to be what I want my kids to be.”


“Always remember,” Pam added. “We are our kids’ first teachers.”


My "Junior Writer" Eliza Lillian Rodger
(Photo: The Voice of Sport)
What else can I say here at TVOS about these two wonderful friends, these two wonderful families? As an avid reader, I am truly fortunate to have two more favourite authors and equally fortunate to say that they are friends of mine. Thanks to Kary and Pam, I am able to share my passion for reading and my passion for hockey with my 2-year old daughter Eliza. There is no better gift!

(If you follow The Voice of Sport on Facebook, you’ll know that the only hockey jersey I’m allowed to wear at home is my New York “Uncle Matts” jersey!)


For more info on Hero The Hero, visit the website at herothehero.com

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