Sunday, 2 July 2017

TBC: Breaking Away

As I proclaimed a few weeks ago, my intention of resurrecting Teebz's Book Club would happen this summer as I wanted to spend more time reading when possible. I find that I get lost in good stories and can tread for hours at a time, and today's entry had me hooked just a few pages into the book. I honestly knew only a little about Patrick O'Sullivan prior to reading his story, but I'm glad that I took the time to learn more about him. In saying that, Teebz's Book Club is proud to review Breaking Away, written by Patrick O'Sullivan and Gare Joyce and published by HarperCollins. Seeing and knowing what O'Sullivan did on the ice was one side that I was very aware of when it came to his life, but what he went through and the daily battles he faced to get to the NHL was something altogether new to me when it came to his career. This book opened my eyes in a major way.

From the HarperCollins website, "Patrick O'Sullivan was the OHL and CHL rookie of the year in 2002 and the AHL rookie of the year in 2005. He remains the all-time leader in games, goals, assists and points for the Mississauga/Niagara franchise in the OHL. He played 334 games over eight seasons with the Los Angeles Kings, Edmonton Oilers, Carolina Hurricanes, Minnesota Wild and Phoenix Coyotes in the NHL. He played in three World Junior Championships and is all-time second in games played for the USA in tournament history. He scored the gold-medal winning goal for the United States team at the world junior championships in 2004, the first gold medal in the team's history. The 30-year-old now lives in southwest Florida with his wife and two sons."

Also from the HarperCollins website, "Gare Joyce is a senior writer for Sportsnet Magazine. A former writer for ESPN: The Magazine and The Globe and Mail, Joyce has won four Canadian national magazine awards and been a finalist 21 times. He is author of seven books of sports non-fiction, including When the Lights Went Out, Future Greats and Heartbreaks and The Devil and Bobby Hull. Under the nom de plume G.B. Joyce, he has written two mystery novels, The Code and The Black Ace."

I had a couple of options in trying to decide how to cover the topics in Breaking Away, but I ultimately decided that it's better to be honest about what Mr. O'Sullivan tells. It's a difficult read, but Patrick O'Sullivan was the victim of some pretty disturbing emotional, mental, and physical abuse during his childhood at the hands of his father, John O'Sullivan. There were parts in Breaking Away that I found difficult to read through thanks to the strong imagery used by Patrick to drive his point home. It's hard to fathom why his father did what he did to Patrick, but the fact that Patrick is able to tell the story speaks volume to his character and to the support and assistance he is receiving in dealing with this trauma. I'm not going to say that reading his story was enjoyable, but it was insightful and, at times, emotional in its delivery.

Breaking Away is literally a timeline from his grandparents emigrating to Canada to his father's attempt at playing big-league hockey to his father's repeated and numerous failed attempts to get beyond the lower ranks of minor-pro hockey. O'Sullivan speaks of how his parents met, and family life at the O'Sullivan house as he grew up. It was his interest in hockey that seemed to attract the attention of his father, and John decided that he was going to craft hockey's greatest player through intense workouts, physical and verbal abuse, and moving season after season after his father has worn out the patience of coaches, teams, and programs. To say that Patrick O'Sullivan had a brutal childhood may not even scratch the surface of what he went through.

How he broke free from the clutches of his father is where Breaking Away starts, but not where it finishes. As you may be aware, O'Sullivan was part of the gold medal-winning US World Junior team in 2004, and was credited with the goal that clinched the gold medal over Canada. He was a star in the OHL with the Mississauga IceDogs, and he appeared to be headed for a first-round draft selection as one of the most dynamic young scorers of that draft class. However, his father's shadow still loomed large over him after the incident he describes took center stage prior to the draft combine. He would eventually be drafted and play in the NHL, but he retired at the young age of 27, started at family with his beautiful wife, and began to deal with his years of trauma. To say Breaking Away took your through the emotional wringer would be pretty accurate.

O'Sullivan writes about his father,
It's not like his anger was ever going to pass. For years it had been the same way. The way he saw it, he was always right, the only who knew what was right. He pushed people around and intimidated anyone who got in his way. I was the one always around, always in the way, so I had been afraid for my life every hour of every day. It has been the only life I'd ever known.

Some of the worst of it happened on the road, on the back roads going from one small town to another. On cold nights like this one, he would kick me out of the van and make me run beside or behind it for a mile, maybe two, maybe more. I had to run hard enough to satisfy him. He threatened to leave me behind if I didn't measure up. Sometimes he would drive off into the distance on the highway in the middle of the night until the van would be out of sight and I'd run down the soft shoulder not knowing if he was still out there. That started when I was eight or nine years old.
O'Sullivan's thoughts as a child was to please his father, but there was clearly some sort of imbalance in his father to do something like that to an eight or nine year-old kid. There are accounts of abuse similar to this throughout the book as Patrick really sets the stage for the moment when he strikes back. It's hard to read at points, but it was his reality for so many years.

Breaking Away is a very honest, very real book that documents a prolonged period of child abuse in a way to which not many people, including sports fans, may be accustomed. For a player as talented as Patrick was on the ice, his efforts were never good enough for his father's liking, resulting in some rather uncomfortabler passages to read. Patrick's writing was done very well in describing incidents and events, and it made for very fluid reading. The fact that Patrick has been able to manage his trauma and lead a normal life with his wife and two sons is a testament to the writer's resolve in getting this story down on paper. It's not an easy read, but the stories, the empathy the reader will feel, and perhaps some closure on this part of his life are all factors that led to Breaking Away absolutely deserving of the Teebz's Book Club Seal of Approval!

Find Breaking Away at your local bookstore or library. Please be warned that some passages may be difficult to read, so this book is better suited for young adults and older readers.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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