At no point during his 15 years of playing hard-nosed hockey in the NHL, racking up 1,200 penalty minutes and recording 219 points, did Jamal Mayers think he'd write a children's book one day.
"No way," the 2013 Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks said with a laugh.
His book, "Hockey is for Me", available at NHL.com, is loosely based on Mayers learning to skate and dealing with adversity as a child.
"I think that everyone goes through different stages of their lives," he said. "I think that as a 21-year-old, you're just trying to survive, trying to show value, be consistent and become a regular. That's the first hurdle.
"Once you accomplish that, then you get married and your priorities change and you have a family, your focus, obviously, is still doing your job and winning the Stanley Cup, but also providing for your family and doing those things.
"Then when you get to the end of your career, you start to think about: How am I leaving the game? What's the legacy? What am I leaving behind? How have I impacted the game and the younger players that I was around? Hopefully in a positive way. Then you start thinking: How can I effect change and leave the game a better place than I found it?"
Mayers got the idea for his children's book in his work with the Blackhawks as a community liaison.
"I've been very fortunate working for the Hawks that they have put me in a position to use that platform to help kids and to be out there in the community to be that visible [example]," Jamal said.
"I remember when you're a kid, like for me growing up, and I'm thinking, 'Okay, can I play in the NHL? I was not unaware of the fact that I didn't look like the other players that played in the NHL. So I sought out the Grant Fuhr's, the Claude Vilgrain's, the Tony McKegney's, the Dirk Graham's, the guys that were there playing that made a career of it. That made me think it's possible.
"My hope is that there's an element of that in the book where kids that are in K, which is I think five or six, to third grade, they're there reading the book thinking, 'Wow, that's possible for me too.' So that's my hope, is that it opens their eyes to thinking anything's possible, really."
Mayers, also a Blackhawks analyst for NBC Sports Chicago, credits his mother, Doreen, for helping him stick with skating and hockey, just like the main character in the book.
"You don't realize the struggle, the sacrifices that your parents make until you have your own kids, it's kind of funny how that works," he said. "It just amazes me, what she was able to do raising two boys on her own in the city and making it work and we were none the wiser until you get older and realize that couldn't have been easy."
Jamal wrote the first book for his son Crew, who kept asking, 'Well, what's next?' Which prompted him to write four more. He approached the Hawks with the idea of publishing the first book, which they were thrilled to do. After seeing how the first book does, the others could be published as well.
"Honestly, I'm quite passionate about it," Mayers said.
He put a lot of thought into structuring his potential series.
"Each book has different elements of lessons that I was fortunate enough to learn through the game, whether it's leadership, becoming a good teammate, the value of figuring out where you fit in on a team. All the different things that make me who I am today, I learned from the game. Each book has a different lesson.
"One of the amazing things for me and through this process is that there was some initial thought that this is going to be for kids of color or kids who maybe don't think hockey is for them. That is a component of it, there's no question, but my message to kids as I read it to kids in schools and such is that my story happened to be about hockey. Yours can be about being a surgeon, an inventor, an entrepreneur, you create your own story. This just happens to be mine, which was perhaps an unorthodox path but you can create your own and don't limit yourself to what those possibilities can be, that's one aspect.
"But one [thing] that came about, which I thought was probably more important, was it began a conversation for every parent, teacher, coach to talk to their kids about what diversity inclusion is, what it looks like, why it's important that we create safe and inviting environments or settings for others to feel welcome."
The book was a purposeful achievement for Jamal. It helped that the most important critics, his children: Langley (14), Harper (11) and Crew (seven) were very receptive to it.
"I've never written anything in my life other than being in college and writing a paper. To think that I could actually write and make it interesting, it was fun, it was a fun process. And then reading it to the kids and they liked it, and I was like, 'Okay, I'll keep going.'
"There were challenges for me growing up in a single-parent house. My stepdad didn't come around until I was 12 or 13, so it was just my brother and my mom and I living in the city in Toronto. It's very similar to Chicago, it's a big city and the resources to play hockey were minimal and it wasn't easy.
"I think a lot of kids could see themselves in that. I think that I could still probably write a book that's for more adults and autobiographical and tells about the journey and tells the sad stories and how it worked and the struggle.
"But to me, I wanted to write something positive and you can still tell those relatable stories within it, but I just wanted to write a positive story because I have so much to be grateful for and thankful for from the game that I wanted to write something positive. And what better way than to have an affect on kids or change their perspective on what's possible for their own situation."
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