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"Don't Get Cheated"

by: Tyler Johnston

My parents used to call me insane. Mostly because I got hit with hard rubber flying at my head for fun.

I fell in love with the game the first time I touched the ice. I started off skating when I was about eight years old, and by skating, I mean trying desperately to walk on ice for more than ten feet without falling. And despite my lack of balance, I wanted nothing more than to throw on some hockey gear. I started off playing left wing and every goal I scored, I would celebrate by crashing into the boards behind the net because I wasn’t exactly good at stopping. But in short time, that would no longer be an issue.

One day before practice my coach came into the locker room and asked if anybody wanted to step in goal. I took one look at the torn up Bauer leg pads he had in his hands and I raised my hand immediately. And I never went back.

From then on, I spent most of my time getting hit in the head with pucks by my older brother. The game became a lifestyle for me. I didn’t feel complete without an extra 40 pounds of gear on me.

By the time high school rolled around, I wanted nothing more to hit the ice in front of all the fans and the Amity Army, Amity's student section. However, I rode the bench my freshman year. But watching from the bench, I was able to pick up incredible amounts of knowledge about the game and how many different ways it can be played. I was able to pick up on what works and what doesn’t. More importantly, I busted my ass, or at least I thought I did, in practice in hopes that my freshman self could overtake the senior starter’s position. Unfortunately, that didn’t play out quite as I had hoped.

I played 15 minutes my freshman year.

Now fast forward to sophomore year. I was somewhat of a co-starter with my freshman counterpart, Tyler Cole. With both of us being rather competitive in nature, it was truly a battle for the number one spot. I pushed him and he pushed me. We both became much stronger because of this. I now call that concept “wingmanship”, but I’ll get back to that.

I’d say throughout my high school career, in my three years of co-starting, I was a middle of the pack goaltender. This was mostly in part to my complacency, which took me a long time to figure out. I only pushed myself when I absolutely needed to, which led me to slack off. If there’s one regret I have about my hockey career, it’s the fact that I didn’t push myself constantly. I decided that getting by was good enough, and boy was I wrong.

My lack of internal motivation to keep pushing held me behind. It later filled my head with “what if I did this?” and “I should’ve done this”. It took me a long time, but I finally decided to put an end to that.

Senior year. It was time for me to make the biggest decision of my life. I had to figure out something to do after high school. Like I said before, I was never self-motivated, but I wanted that to change. And then an idea crossed my mind.

I come from a pretty extensive military family, almost all of my relatives have served at some point. My dad told me “you need the discipline” and I thought to myself “I need the motivation as well”.

So, I took it upon myself to seek out military recruiters. That’s when I stumbled into the United States Air Force recruiting office. My first meeting did not go as planned. I walked in, told the recruiter that I wanted to join, and he laughed. He told me to hop on the scale, and when it read “225 pounds” he told me I had to lose 50 pounds to even be eligible. This was my first massive reality check. My complacency in life led me to lose track of my physical fitness. This was the first task I had to take on, one of the most daunting things I’ve ever had to take on. But that day, I told myself that my complacency would stop.

Through the journey of getting physically fit and dropping the weight, one quote resonated in my head. It was a quote from my high school hockey coach, Amity legend Gary Lindgren. Almost every time we had a conversation, he would tell me “Don’t get cheated”. And to this day, the quote still lives on in my head. I decided from that day on, I would stop cheating myself.

I made myself a goal, lose 50 pounds in eight months. And believe me, those were the toughest eight months of my young life. I pushed myself harder than I ever had, and it showed. And every day, whether I was at the gym or working out in my basement, the quote played constantly through my head. “Don’t get cheated”.

Around October 2017, I confidently walked my 170 pound frame back into the recruiting office, and the recruiter was shocked. He asked how I lost the weight so quickly, to which I replied “I stopped cheating myself”. And with that being said, the recruiting process began. Before I knew it, I had a date to ship off to San Antonio, Texas for boot camp. The date was January 16th, 2018.

When that day rolled around, I could not have been more anxious. From the second I stepped foot off the bus on Lackland Air Force Base, my life changed forever. I thought the 8 months of dropping weight was hard, but the two months of boot camp that I went through proved to be more challenging than the rest of my life combined.

Each day I was tested physically, mentally, socially, and psychologically. And almost every day, I wished I had never signed that dotted line. But as the days went on, I started to ask myself one question, “why am I doing this?” That’s when I would come back down to reality. I told myself I was done getting cheated and that it would all be worth it in the end.

Throughout the longest two months I could begin to imagine, I learned the importance of self motivation and teamwork. I was able to push myself to do almost anything, and what I couldn’t pull off myself, I had some brothers to help me along the way. I call these brothers my wingmen, and they help me every day when I can’t push myself any harder.

The day I graduated boot camp was the proudest day of my life. I had made it through the hardest two months of my life, and I made it out with some valuable lessons.

Lesson 1: Complacency will get you nowhere in life, you have to take it upon yourself to better yourself. There’s always room for improvement.

Lesson 2: No matter how hard your day was today, you’ll never have to do it again. The sun will still rise tomorrow morning and you’ll have to take on the next day.

Lesson 3: Push yourself until you’ve completely emptied the tank. When you have nothing more left to give, call on your wingman to help you through it. When your wingman has nothing left to give, help them get through their task. There’s no “I” in team.

And though many more lessons were learned, those are the three that I took away most and those are the three that allow me to better myself every day.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to the one quote that I heard every day, from my crazy high school hockey coach, “Don’t get cheated”.

And to this day, after four years of high school hockey and one year of military service, it’s still my goal every day to be able to look at myself in the mirror and confidently say “I didn’t get cheated."

Tyler Johnston is a 2017 graduate of Amity High School and a three-year letter winner on the Spartans hockey team. Tyler is currently stationed in Arizona. From all the guys at @CTHSHockey, we thank Tyler for his service.

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