Into the Fire

May 3, 2020


Just before lunch, I interviewed graduating McKendree defender Delayne Ivanowski.

Then I took a walk.

Walks, I’ve found, are one of the creative’s best weapons. Whether I’m stuck or just want to get off to a good start, there’s just something about being outside and getting some light exercise (music optional) that helps unclutter the brain. Most of my best work owes its existence to a well-timed walk and the moments of clarity and inspiration it produced.

Of course, walks are kind of complicated these days. I saw two girls approaching on bicycle and crossed the street. Then a man turned a corner and headed towards me, so I crossed back. Reflexively, I held my breath while passing a lady sitting on her porch enjoying a gorgeous early May Sunday. I decided to brave the increased population density of the town square instead of making my turnaround a couple blocks short, but I was more preoccupied with processing a million vector calculations – and trying to avoid looking too obvious in my evasion tactics – than taking in the 19th century architecture.

And that’s one of the easier tasks of living in a COVID-19 world. Something like the grocery store is even more stressful, a previously-mindless errand that has now become a rigorous two-hour sequence of face masks, handwashing, Lysol wipes and, for a brief moment, wondering if someone coughed into the machine at the food processing plant and rendered my best efforts moot.

On the other hand, there’s Ivanowski, who is beginning a one-year accelerated nursing program through the Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis this week, with the idea of getting out there as quickly as possible. She’s running towards the danger, not away from it.

I had one very obvious question circled at the top of a notebook page for her: Are you scared?

I didn’t think it really needed much context. Who isn’t scared right now, at least a little bit? While the situation will hopefully be less chaotic by the time Ivanowski receives her second bachelor’s degree, a vaccine is still unlikely at that point. And even before she’s on her own, the medical field is necessarily reliant on practical learning. You can’t figure out how to be a nurse by reading a book and making two discussion board posts each week.

“I’m kind of scared,” she admitted. “I just want to do good, you know? My mom’s friends who have daughters who have gone through the program say how hard it is. I hope it’s not that hard on me, I’m expecting it to be tough, and obviously I have to commit a lot of time to it, studying.”

Uh, no, Delayne…I meant the whole thing with the deadly pandemic and the personal protective equipment shortages for healthcare workers, not to mention the horror stories of overcrowded hospitals and caregivers stretched beyond their breaking points.

I suppose she had already given me her answer in a sense, but I clarified anyway.

“I wish I was working right now, as a nurse,” she said. “I wish I already had my degree, I was in a hospital or a clinic or something, and working right now.”

“Obviously it would be extremely dangerous, you’re literally putting your life on the line potentially. But to be able to look back when I’m 50 or whatever and tell my kid that I worked through a pandemic, and have that history. I’m living through it, but I think it would be so different to actually be like hands-on treating people. I think that would be pretty great, to have a firsthand experience like that would be pretty interesting.”

It probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Ivanowski was among the toughest hockey players anywhere, with the skill to match.

She also has an innate ability to make the best of awful circumstances and carry an upbeat personality, on and off the ice, going back to the beginning of her career – Ivanowski began playing to honor the memory of her younger brother Dawson, who passed away at the age of eight from neuroblastoma in 2007.

Thirteen years on from that tragedy, after stops with the St. Louis Lady Blues AAA organization and Kirkwood High School, she wrapped up her senior season with the Bearcats on the best offensive streak of her career.

The run began on February 15th against Miami, when she crept into the middle of the left circle at the beginning of a McK power play late in the first period. With the entire RedHawks penalty kill faded to the strong side, Kayla Waldbillig found her fellow blueliner with half of the ice to herself, and Ivanowski pumped home a one-timer. The goal would stand up as the game and series-winner (following a scoreless tie the day before), a result that unofficially locked down an ACHA National Tournament bid for the Bearcats and shut three-time national champ Miami out of the event for the first time since 2013.


After a four-point weekend in a sweep of Robert Morris and a goal against Lindenwood-Belleville, Ivanowski opened the Women’s Midwest College Hockey playoffs with a bang. Just 27 seconds into McKendree’s first-round matchup with Minnesota, she rifled a puck from left point off of, then over, Gophers goalie Alex Morris, marking her fifth straight game with a goal. She also assisted on a Camryn Scully tally later on in the Bearcats’ 4-3 win.

“Delayne sees and attacks open ice when she has the puck,” McKendree head coach Derek Pallardy said. “It puts teams on the defensive because she is both a threat to attack with speed, or draw coverage and make a pass.”

“Most of all though, her presence on the power play was huge. Our PP really had success down the stretch, and Delayne was a big part of it. If teams left her open, she could one-time the puck really well, and if they tried to take her away as an option, then that opened up a couple of our other scoring threats.”

“She’s a really good, solid defenseman who was key for us on the power play this season,” Chase Hallemann, Ivanowski’s teammate both with the Lady Blues and the Bearcats, agreed.

All of that led to spots on the WMCH’s first-ever all-conference and all-tournament teams, well-earned honors for the player who had anchored McK’s outstanding group of defenders over 28 games – but also frustrating, what-if ones for the player who had logged just 38 games total prior to her senior year.

The elbow came first, after someone fell on it during practice, an injury that was presumed to be a break initially. But when the pain didn’t subside, it was revealed as a bit more complicated than that.

“If I was just standing there having a conversation with somebody, my elbow would lock up and I’d pop it out,” Ivanowski explained. “My fingers were getting kind of tingly and weird, and [my doctor] was like ‘alright come in, we’ll see.’”

“They did another x-ray, and they found that I had chipped some cartilage off in my elbow, and it was floating around, locking it up, and my ulnar nerve was pretty fired up from it. So they moved my nerve, and they took some cartilage out.”

Then her chronic hip issues flared up during her sophomore year.

“My labrum was torn, and I had impingements on my femur heads. They had to repair my labrum, and shave the heads of my femur off basically, to make sure my bones weren’t hitting each other.”

Don’t forget the other one.

“Almost on the tail end of my right hip rehab, the one I had surgery on, I was like ‘man, my left hip feels exactly like the other one does,’” Ivanowski said. “It’s starting to feel the same pain, like… it’s identical, I can’t make this up.”

“So I went in again, and yep, it’s the same thing as the right one, it’s just slightly worse with hip dysplasia, we’re not going to touch that. They repaired the labrum, shaved my femur again on my left side. I finally started playing again in the spring semester of my junior year.”

“Delayne did have a lot of injuries during her four years but she never gave up on the game and that’s the kind of drive the program needs,” Hallemann said. “She even helped out by taking pictures for us at home games when she wasn’t able to play.”

Whatever damage the injuries did to her hockey career, they inadvertently helped Ivanowski out with the rest of her life, specifically her decision to get into nursing.

She always knew she wanted to do something in the healthcare industry, so she majored in biopsychology, with the idea of going into physical therapy. However, the opportunity to observe that career up close gave Ivanowski’s plans a pivot that was certainly the envy of most of her joints at that point.

The Goldfarb School of Nursing in St. Louis

“After my appointments and stuff, I’d stay and shadow, just hang out with the physical therapists to get hours,” she said. “But after doing that so much, I was just like…not that physical therapy is slow, it just wasn’t for me I guess.”

Another complication was biopsychology’s insistence that she take chemistry and physics, classes that produced an uncharacteristic level of struggle for the Academic All-American.

Or, as she succinctly put it, “I hated chemistry.”

“I took College Chem 1, and I got my first C in my life – college, high school, middle school, in my life, she continued. “I was so bummed, but I was also so happy to get that C, because that class was so hard. It’s just not my brain, it’s not for me. I had always been interested in nursing and decided I’d rather go down that path, and I looked up all of the [prerequisites] for that, to see what I could get into there.”

So, following her junior year, Ivanowski applied to Goldfarb. And, as Natasha Bedingfield once said, the rest is still unwritten.

Hockey is an inherently unpredictable sport that has no real equivalent to something like former major league shortstop Omar Vizquel’s .985 career fielding rate. Nothing is 98.5 percent reliable in hockey. The best players in the world turn the puck over multiple times per game. A defenseman can play a situation perfectly and give up a goal two seconds later thanks to a freak bounce or a breakdown elsewhere. Players can land on teammates’ elbows in practice and derail an entire season.


Coaches and players, then, need to trust patterns and systems. If, after the post-mortem video evaluation, you determine that you did everything right and the worst-case scenario still occurred, well, you just keep doing the right things and trust that the outcomes will fall in your favor over time. Almost every hockey cliché has its origins somewhere in that thought process, from “we gotta take it once shift at a time” to “guys (or girls) have to get to the net.” As overused as they are in interviews, they’re still good advice towards the idea that good procedural building blocks lead to good results.

That’s the part that’s so reassuring about having someone like Ivanowski responsible for people at their most vulnerable as a nurse, or even as a coach with her old Lady Blues program, something she’ll pursue as schedules allow. We’ve seen her process and we know her patterns, to an extent extremely rare with a 22-year-old.

We also have a pretty good idea how she’ll handle a job that, unfortunately, needed a globe-altering virus to be seen for its true importance: with optimism layered on top of cool determination and focus.

“I skated through so much pain, my hips…I could hardly take a stride,” Ivanowski admitted of her injuries. “My shifts were getting so short, I could hardly push off when my right leg was hurting, it was getting bad.”

“But I was at McKendree for hockey, so I might as well stick with it while I can, and I did pretty well.”

“Delayne will be a good coach, especially for younger girls, because of her patience and positivity,” Pallardy said. “She’s a cheerful person, and will be someone that younger players look forward to working with when they come to the rink.”

“Once I was at the rink, I was at the rink to play hockey, or practice, or work out, nothing else really mattered,” Ivanowski added. “It was kind of my escape, and I guess having that, obviously since I don’t have hockey anymore, I’ll have nursing as my hockey. Hockey was my job, and now I’ll have a big girl job.”

“I’m going to see so much. I’m probably going to be super overwhelmed, but I think I’m going to learn so many life lessons from it, not just the book stuff.”

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