April 07, 2014

Wright Brothers: Flying High Sticks

I was thumbing through the Fall 2010 issue of the Hockey Research Journal by the Society for International Hockey Research the other day. The very first story, written by Bill Sproule, absolutely floored me.

It was a fascinating biography the Wright brothers - you know, the fathers of flight. Most of us know very little about them other than their 12 second flight of fancy. I had even been to the site near Kitty Hawk in the beautiful Outer Banks region of North Carolina where the first flight occurred. But I really knew next to nothing about the Wrights.life both before and after they successfully invented the airplane.

What does any of this have to do with hockey? Well Sproule tells us hockey played an interesting role in Wilbur Wright's career path.

Long story short - Wilbur was quite the athlete, starring in football and track and field, but he also played some hockey. Sometime in the winter of 1885/86 he was struck in the face by a high stick while playing shinny on a frozen pond near Dayton, Ohio. Not only did Wilbur lose his front teeth, but the incident somehow saw Wilbur descend into years of health problems, including heart problems, digestive distress and severe depression and withdrawal from society.

How all of that is related to an errant high stick is hard fathom. But for four years or so he went from an athletic young man about to enter Yale to become an educator to an anti-social shut in.

During this time Wilbur took care of his ailing mother and also devoured countless books in the family's extensive library. One of his favorite topics was aviation. It was during this time off from his original plans that he became obsessed with flight.

The rest, as they say, is history. I don't think a hockey injury can really take too much claim to fame in the Wright brothers success, but it certainly is an interesting footnote.

The Hockey Research Journal is released to SIHR members. Membership is only $30 annually and well worth it for the Journal, the website and its database, and the amazing list of hockey contacts.

Non-members can get a better taste of SIHR and its writings in the 2010 book release Pucklore: The Hockey  Research Anthology: Volume 1 - Buy The Book:  Amazon.ca - Chapters

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