I am sitting in the gym of the University of Alberta, watching the 2014 Canadian Table Tennis Games. Between games, I open Debbie Okun Hill’s “Tarnished Trophies”. This is Mrs. Hill’s first collection of poetry. It paints a picture of the athletic soul through the light and shade of the sports world. Around me, I can hear the cheers near and far and ping pong balls bouncing back and forth. Her poems “It Starts Here” and “Hockey Parent Pilgrimage”, perfectly resonate with my memory of my son’s athletic journey. I still remember when we drove through storms to other cities for basketball tournaments. Like each athlete’s family in her book, we too have experienced the excitement of winning and the sorrow of losing. We have witnessed the players fighting through ups and downs, between hope and despair, and “wondering how long this practice…will last” and where the “go-go-gold” leads… when “slithering snakes on patrol\ready to trip the weakest warriors”. This book not only visualizes the tough practice of both body and mind, but also reflects on the sacrifice of the family. An athlete’s journey becomes the family’s journey, full of sweat and tears, brimming with cheers and faith. From “Thirst for First” to “The Finish Line”, each mind races with ticks of the watch, each stretching with longing for every golden moment…yet there is silence falling “At the Click of a Stopwatch”, there is a dilemma to find an end at “This is Where it Ends”.
Debbie Okun Hill cleverly unfolds her poems in a reasonable sequence and groups them into three sessions: “Training”, “Building Muscle” and “Hitting Home”. It begins with “It Starts Here” and “Thirst for First”. It ends with “The Finish Line” and “This is Where it Ends”. In most of her poems, Mrs. Hill uses short lines with irregular meter and that pattern continues to the end, which not only reflects the intense, dynamic and unpredictable outcome of the sports world, but also implies the demand for the persistence of athletic spirit for each sport. “So those who are last will be first, /and those who are first will be last.” The book “Tarnished Trophies” brings readers deep thoughts about what truly we look for from the sports world, what will last till the end and whether it is worthy. When I explore her poetic imagination and her probing mind, I watch out and think not only about my son’s games but also about what they lead to.