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The Hero of His Own Story, Ben Fanelli Now Strives to Inspire and Empower Others to do the Same.
A drastic change of plans altered Ben Fanelli's professional hockey plans, the result is a journey of inspiration and impact to many.
It is the dream of many a young Canadian athlete, to play hockey at the highest level in the NHL.
Even though he started to play hockey at the ripe old age of 10, and did not care for it much for it for the first couple of years, Ben Fanelli started to get accolades and enjoy it more into his teens. Before he knew it, it became his focus and his passion.
Photo courtesy of Ben Fanelli
Not many suit up in the Canadian Hockey League (Canada’s premier elite under 21 hockey development league) at 16 years old, but Ben made his debut with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers at that very young age. Many felt that he had all the tools required for a couple of years in Kitchener and then onto the NHL.
But fate had other plans, and 6 games into his career, Ben was injured by a vicious hit that caused a significant brain injury. The below image was broadcast across Canadian television sets at the time. Ben’s life map had a change in plans.
Photo courtesy of Ben Fanelli
The following days and weeks were a blur for Ben. He woke up in a hospital room with no recollection of what had happened. The doctors told him and his family that hockey was over for him, school would be on hold for the next 3 years, and there was good chance he would not be the same person.
Thankfully the 3 brain bleeds he suffered did not require surgery, and that meant a better than average change of full recovery.
For 2 months, Ben slowly started to get his independence back. His studying of everything around brain injuries was a precursor to the academic interests he is pursuing currently, 6 years later.
At the 2 month mark post injury, Ben was deemed healthy enough to rejoin the team in a non-playing capacity. For 2 years Ben was around the team and trained as best he could to get back to playing.
Ben recovered and went on to play 3 more years for the Kitchener Rangers, his last season as captain of the team.
He then went on to training camp with the New York Rangers, but realized in his last season with Kitchener that he had probably gone as far as he wanted in hockey.
photo courtesy of Ben Fanelli
The support of the community triggered a level of gratitude in Ben that inspired him to commit to finding a way to show his appreciation.
Ben tried a few different businesses with a social cause, none of them quite clicking until a friend mentioned he should start a podcast. He was comfortable speaking and immediately thought enough of the idea to run out and get 2 microphones, find 2 guests who had overcome some form of adversity and launched into the Heroic Minds podcast.
His first guests were people who he knew had an important story to share.
The reaction he received from the first few episodes was overwhelmingly positive. Ben received emails thanking him for sharing tough conversations and raising their profile. The feedback mentioned that his discussions were helpful either with something they were experiencing or for someone they knew.
The reaction to Ben’s podcasts inspired a mission to finding out more about the reasons why we do the things we do.
90 + episodes later, the Heroic Minds podcast has kept evolving and it is indeed making an impact. If you go through the list of the podcast guests, it is an impressive array of individuals who, as Ben puts it, treating their lives and an opportunity to make a difference.
Guests have included researchers trying to change the world. Amputees living incredible lives, people survived or pushing through illness, to trainers trying to change lives for others.
Ben currently juggles the growth of Heroic Minds (which includes the podcasts, workshops, keynote presentation and custom apparel. All with a purpose and connected to community) while assistant coach for the men’s hockey team at University of Waterloo, and pursuing his Masters Degree in Psychology.
Ben’s message is that living a life of purpose starts with getting out of our own way.
That means understanding that the narrative of being focused on big goals all the time, pushing harder, grinding at all costs leads to a disconnect with what is happening in the present. In his work he explores other ways, sustainable ways to fuel us is a healthier way.
Ben’s story is an inspiration. Ben’s mission is empowering and worth some time.
The Physical Movement sat down with Ben Fanelli, a heroic mind:
TPM: Thanks for joining us. I have shared a little bit of your story with our readers. You have accomplished so much, your journey is inspirational and your mission is empowering. You are juggling so much right now, trying to get Heroic Minds to a sustainable level, with a full time job and studies. How do things go for Ben in the next 5 years, where does this journey go?
BF: Thanks for having me.
I like that question so much. So often we see a group, a company and the perception is one of an overnight success. But it is not.
For me where I would like to be in 5 years ?
I would like to put food on my table while making an impact.
Right now, the business is not sustainable enough to do that, so I have a job as a coach, I need to work, but what I am doing is so exciting that the money is not the most important thing right now.
I have been blessed to get a taste of what empowering others feels like, and want to see where this can go.
This is my main goal. But we all need it to be sustainable (Smile).
The Physical Movement is brought to you in part by Johnson Health Tech Canada, manufacturers of Matrix Fitness equipment.
TPM: I love this topic. If you study those who have achieved success, many started with a passion for their pursuit, their interest and not with a passion for material assets.
I am fascinated with Canadian university athletes, because this is often reflective of that concept, especially hockey players. They have been playing at the highest level in their age bracket their whole lives with aspirations on a pro career. 4-6 years ago, this is not necessarily where your hockey players would have imagined they would be? Back in your junior days, could you tell which guys in the room had that diversity to do different things, and pursue university studies or was it so focused on hockey at that time at the exclusion of other things?
BF: This is such a hot topic right now. At that time, some were willing to show their other interests, but many were hiding that.
Part of the culture is that if you are not “all hockey”, you cannot be the best you can be.
It certainly was that way in junior. If you were not “all hockey”, it meant you did not care enough. I think that is changing however, as the culture. Certainly, the university culture is more diversified.
TPM: Do you think that is starting to change with coaches and parents as well? what thoughts would you have for parents and coaches on the topic?
BF: on the Coaches side, I think some of the certifications and clinics are starting to talk about the benefits of clearing one’s mind through breaks.
On the parental side, I think they are starting to see the importance of balance.
Some do have the mindset of more is better. It comes form a good place, but at the same time they need to take a step back. And think this is where we need to do some more work.
I am not sure how many really good players and all stars that the young athletes need to do other things for it to be well accepted.
The 10 000 hour idea came up on a podcast the other day, from Malcolm Gladwell’s book. I admire him, I love his stuff.
Much of the 10000 hour message has been taken out of context.
The whole 10 000 hour of hard work has become the message, but his work was based on research that studied 10 000 purposeful hours, not just hard work.
Luckily, my parents growing up were clear that they were not going to drive me all over in the place in the summer to play hockey when I could be out playing soccer or something else.
If you really think about that 30 minute drive to a rink in middle of summer, when not focused, is really best way to develop, then maybe there is a disconnect. Is there a better more purposeful way?
I don’t think people remember the purposeful part.
I can’t speak for other sports, but in hockey there are ton of scouts for each team.
If you are good enough, they will find you.
With all the cameras and leagues, they will find you if you are good enough. We have kids from Texas and California playing in the NHL. It is almost impossible.
TPM: I am pretty sure you can apply that concept to all major sports. I remember my Dad saying that to me: “ NCAA, major junior, Canadian university, If they were good enough they will find you.” I was not good enough and they did not find me (LOL), but that also free me up to do other things.
BF: Exactly. Freed you up.
Mark Scheifele is a good example (Winnipeg Jets, All Star , NHL).
He is now one of the league’s top players.
He did not start in the top junior league. He played lower level growing up. Junior B first year of eligibility. He moved through the ranks and kept progressing and progressing to where he is today. A little at a time.
People forget the confidence and belief side for a young athlete and how important it is. Playing and getting that confidence is critical, regardless of what level it is at.
Building that confidence and mental side is essential.
I am not the only one who will say that ½ the AHL could play in the NHL in terms of physical skills. It comes down to the mental side, of performance under pressure, the belief level and confidence of the athlete.
This is groomed at younger ages by those experiences.
Not necessarily being 16 and playing at the highest level with 21 year olds.
TPM: That is a great point. Young athletes who are working to find their way, also be able to handle it that pressure mentally. Not just physically. Many people do not realize that it is a demanding and hard life in many ways even for those who do make it.
BF: When Scheif was on the podcast , one thing he said, is sometimes you need to sacrifice the enjoyment of life to do what he does.
Yes, good money, but they are under a lot of stress. Much of the public does not realize that.
TPM: this has been awesome , thanks so much for taking time. What is life like during these crazy days with the hockey team, is there any talk of camp or is everything a mystery ?
BF: Right now, there is so much uncertainty, we are trying to keep guys engaged and training. We work on virtual team building activities regularly.
One of the things I suggested is to get creative to keep them engaged, so we try different activities. Because we have guys from all over the country, we have our calls at 9pm at night to cater to everyone.
We are doing all kinds of different things. Pilates. Taichi. 9pm. Get on youtube and take notes so I jump right in there and lead the activities!
TPM: That’s cool. So did they change your business card to now being in charge of creative content development for UWaterloo Hockey program ? HA HA HA
BF: not yet, lol, taking upon myself to force it upon myself!!
I am inspired by Ben, his story and desire to make an impact. I hope you are as well.
Heroic Minds provides workshops on getting out of our own way to sports organizations and business, keynote presentations and custom apparel, all with a contribution to community theme.
I have heard Ben’s presentation in 2 different settings, and he was very compelling in both. 1 with a local sports organization primarily of baseball athletes 10-12 years old, and the other in a corporate setting. If you oversee a team of any kind, his message is well worth it. Greg Lawlor - The Physical Movement.
Reach out to Ben on the below link:
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Recent editions have included equally significant profiles of leadership in our communities from the coaching field.