Hero shoots for heavens
By Ian Ross
He was the man who brought the nation to tears and celebration. With the high drama of the 1972 Summit Hockey Series setting the stage, Paul Henderson, with a couple of flicks of his wrist, carried Team Canada and the rest of the country to victory over the Soviet Union and became an instant national icon.
On Tuesday, Henderson visited Western to speak to the Mustang hockey team with a different type of goal in mind. With the full attention of the team, he gave an emotional 40-minute speech about his family, the sport of hockey and how and why he had accepted God into his life.
He spoke about hanging up his skates in 1980, when even with a healthy family, national fame and money in the bank, he felt there was still something missing in his life. "I just didn't like the person I had become," Henderson said.
Although he was not raised in a religious family, Henderson began to start asking questions about the Lord. He began reading an old Bible given to him by the Toronto Maple Leafs management in 1971 and contacted a local priest whose number was printed on the inside cover.
Today he is a member of the Executive Leadership Ministry with the Christian-based organization, Athletes in Action, through which he has been a celebrity spokesperson spreading the word of God since 1984.
"When you put your head down on the pillow at night, we want you to feel good with yourself," Henderson said. "We don't have all the answers, but we try to ask the right questions."
Henderson said there are many parallels to his religious beliefs and his hockey career has helped him gain the attention of young athletes.
"Hockey also teaches you about life and that everything has a price. Look at Wayne Gretzky. He worked his rear end off to get to the top."
Henderson's visit was arranged through Bill Underwood, Western's representative for Athletes in Action. In the organization's first year on campus, Underwood and his wife have visited many of Western's varsity teams and are slowly building a bridge with campus athletes.
Currently, the organization boasts several of Western's top athletes, including wrestling captain Scott Proctor and provincial shot-put champion Mary-Ann Phillips.
According to Underwood, the organization was created to reach out to athletes so that they can use their influence to tell others about God.
"I think if it's in the right context, athletics and religion can work together," he said, adding that Henderson's talk reiterated that there is much more to life than just sports.
"I don't think [Western athletics] or Athletes in Action are pushing anything," Mustang hockey head coach Barry Martinelli said. "We are just making the players more aware of the options available."
Martinelli, who describes himself as an Easter and Christmas Christian, commented that the players agreed to let Henderson speak to them at a meeting held last week. Martinelli, however, admitted that the players probably initially came to listen to Paul Henderson the hockey player, rather than the religious sage.