The connection between athletes is really cool.
On a regular basis, I have the opportunity to watch the Islanders interact with one another. I’m at practices and skates, interviewing them after wins and losses. I’m there on the plane with them for hours and hours as they fly all over the US and Canada.
To me, the way their relationships evolve over time is pretty fascinating. There is a bond between players. It grows with the number of games they play together, and is tested with the highs and lows throughout a given season. The common thread is in the jersey they wear and the game they love.
Recently, I’ve noticed the bond formed between athletes that play different sports. I had the opportunity to go along with Anders Lee to the New York Giants‘ training facility in New Jersey. He was super excited to meet a young rookie defensive end who plays for Big Blue, Romeo Okwara. The two had never met before. They play different sports while representing the same city, New York, but that was just part of their instant connection as they shook hands and chatted happily.
Romeo and Andres are both very proud of their Fighting Irish roots as they both were student-athletes representing the University of Notre Dame.
Watching them interact throughout the day brought back some college memories for me, too. I could understand the ease they felt meeting one another. Their common thread of being a college athlete at Notre Dame is part of who they are as people now. Many hockey players don’t go through the college pipelines before going to the NHL — same goes for baseball. But in my experience, that time in college is invaluable and the connections you form with other athletes can stay with you throughout your lifetime.
I was a swimmer at the University of Missouri, as some of you might already know. As a student-athlete at Mizzou, some of my closest friends were other athletes and not just on my team. I had friends who ran track, wrestled, played baseball and football. We ate at the dining hall together, studied at the student-athlete facilities and went to each others’ games and meets to share support. Years after graduating, I’ve had a few instances where our paths cross again.
The first time I walked into the Detroit Tigers’ clubhouse, I thought Max Scherzer was going to die when he saw me. We knew each other from our time on the Student Athlete Council at Mizzou. What were the chances I’d end up covering the team he was pitching for? It was fun watching Max continue to develop into one of the league’s premier talents. And, though we both moved on from Detroit, I still make an effort to watch his starts at Citi Field when the Nationals are in town. I felt Mizzou pride when Max was awarded the Cy Young award a few weeks ago. Once a Tiger, always a Tiger.
Looking back at the day Lee and Okwara met, I could have told you in the first five minutes their bond will last a lifetime. The Notre Dame experience and their respect for their professional endeavors in sports was evident.
Anders invited Romeo to come visit Barclays Center to experience an Islanders game. The next home game was that Friday and guess who was there sitting by the glass wearing an Islanders jersey? Romeo Okwara. He chanted “Yes, Yes, Yes” during the game and toured the Isles’ dressing room after. It was a new connection formed, not between teammates, but like-minded athletes.
From college to the pros, the respect Romeo and Anders have for each other and the games they love is something special.