Rink Rat to Firefighter…a story of inspiration
By Cal Hudkins
As a Canadian boy growing up in northern Alberta, I was always involved with hockey. My father wanted to experience a different way of life, so we moved to Washington State.
Playing youth hockey in Canada almost every day is what kept me busy and on track. I didn’t have the greatest grades but I was responsible – no drugs or alcohol – which helped me later in life, especially with my career.
But at our new home in Bremerton, hockey came to a halt. There were no local arenas. In Canada, we had a rink on every block, as the saying goes. Not having hockey actually caused a bit of upset in my family. My dad played hockey, my two older brothers played hockey, and my sister played hockey.
Then something amazing happened.
In 2001, my father somehow got involved in helping a local builder, Greg Meakin, who was developing an ice arena. I remember Dad spending long nights and crazy days, working around his job schedule to help Greg.
Not knowing it at the time, I was only 11, we had been given a blessing when Bremerton Ice Arena opened its doors in 2003.
For a Canadian family, it was a blessing. The whole arena project, and the community involvement that came along with it, kept us all busy…and happy! It was not just being able to play hockey again, it was something bigger.
I still call Greg “the myth, the man, the legend”, and the kids all knew him as “Ice man”. With the help of volunteers like my dad, and so many others, he brought the rink dream to reality.
The arena helped a lot of kids stay active and out of trouble – and also gave the local community something brand new; hockey. I look back and realize that my involvement with the arena, including volunteering to help with youth hockey and spending all of my after school time there, had a positive effect on where I am today.
As I look back, I remember being a “Rink Rat”. A Rink Rat is a kid who virtually lives at the rink, doing everything, from helping with skates, assisting the staff, even sweeping the lobby floor! Or just hanging out with buddies.
We became part of the Meakin family in those days. Greg’s eldest son Tanner managed the Ice Cafe, which had a old-style Soda Fountain. In addition to great food, Tanner made the best milkshakes in town!
I remember one afternoon, I was running around with my new pals, Greg’s twins Carson and Colton, who were then 14. Greg stopped us, calmly but firmly saying, “Slow down gentlemen.” He treated us like adults, but kept us in line. In many ways, he was a second dad to me and the others. So many local kids spent all of their free time just hanging around the rink, causing fun trouble!
The coaches and people involved with the youth hockey league were also a positive influence, and helped us stay in the right direction. The rink later changed hands, but that first year created the core of the fun atmosphere, and feeling of community, that remains today.
In reflection, that experience taught me to be mentally strong, physically fit, and gave me self-confidence. Greg helped put a fire in my life, and inspired so many kids to follow their own dreams.
All this helped me through the ups and downs of life. Now 27, I am a grateful husband and father. I am blessed with an amazing wife, and two beautiful children, a son and daughter.
I have had so much fun pursuing my life goals, the first being starting a family. Although some of my family still lives in Bremerton, I relocated back to Grand Prairie, Canada, to pursue a career as a firefighter. I do frequent 12-hour on-call shifts with a great Fire Department here. I also started a coffee company.
The beauty of firefighting is not only that its cool – you get to drive baddass fire trucks, climb buildings, and respond to calls where you help people. Just like the rink days, there is a sense of community, being part of something bigger than yourself, and the satisfaction of truly helping people.
Firefighting is a hard job, but to me, it’s the most amazing job in the world.
I encourage young people to consider firefighting, or other community-service and public safety jobs. Like any career, there are no promises of success, but it is totally worth the effort and experience to try.
It feels good every time I step into those boots. I can’t get enough of it.
Even if my coffee company becomes big some day and it’s a full time career, I will still serve as a volunteer firefighter.
With True Heroes Coffee Company (TrueHeroesCoffee.com), my mission is to give a portion of all proceeds to First Responders and military causes, with focus on treating PTSD. I also supply coffee products to schools and non-profits for fundraising programs.
“Building the community one sip at a time” is my company’s motto.
To anyone looking to become a firefighter, police officer, EMS, or even a business owner, my advice to young people is to not give up. No matter how difficult the challenge, don’t give up.
If it is truly in your blood, it could be the career of a lifetime.
When you work protecting the public every day, you often serve many people who are having the worst day of their lives. It is a great feeling knowing you are often the difference in making that terrible day a little better for them. Even if it is only providing comfort.
“Others worst day is my everyday” is a saying I live by now that I have served the public as a firefighter.
Just keep moving forward. Embrace failure as a leaning experience. We only get one life to live.
Be strong. Stay bold. Follow your dreams.