Zach Hyman is one smart guy. Mostly known as a Toronto Maple Leafs winger, when he is away from the ice he also writes children’s books. The message of his books? “Believe and you can achieve.”
Becoming a children’s author wasn’t what Hyman planned to do with his life. He wanted, like many Canadian kids, to become an NHL player. And, he has. He’s a fixture on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top six. What more could a kid growing up in Toronto ask for? Hockey was his first love, and he’s living his dream.
But, Hyman also found another career – and one that will probably last much longer than his NHL playing days. It is the kind of dual career that “believing in one’s self” can bring.
Hyman’s most recent book, The Magician’s Secret, is the story of a young boy who is transported through history by his grandfather’s stories. So far, it’s Hyman’s only book that isn’t on a sports’ theme. Sports theme or not, the children in Hyman’s books share one characteristic. They are not afraid to do things!
Why did he write it? Hyman answers, “When you’re a kid, sometimes you get told, ‘Oh no, you can’t do this or you can’t do that.’ But really the whole world is ahead of you and you can do whatever you want.”
Hyman believes trying things is “a really important message that I think sometimes gets lost in translation for kids.” He hopes to inspire kids to follow their dreams. Hyman’s first book, go figure, is titled: Hockey Hero, and he first wrote the book in Grade 7, as a short story. His second book, The Bambino and Me, is a baseball story about Babe Ruth that he started in in high school.
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Hockey Hero is the story of a shy young boy, who is bullied because he stutters. But, with his grandfather’s help, the young boy takes a leap of faith. Hyman’s second book, The Bambino and Me, tells the story of a boy who meets and listens to Babe Ruth sharing his wisdom after a trip to the ballpark with his father. As the Bambino says, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”
The message of never giving up comes across again and again in Hyman’s books. His books encourage children to take chances. Because, “you never know what can happen.” Hyman encourages children not to quit. Using Babe Ruth’s words, “And if you fall you can always pick yourself back up and swing big again. And eventually you’re going to hit that home run.”
Hyman was inspired by his grandfather, who would spin story after story for Hyman and his four younger brothers as they sat and listened. One day, the grandfather would be a baseball star, another day he would tell stories about being a football star.
Although the grandfather was never a star, the heroic themes in his stories inspired his grandsons. Hyman came to believe the truth embedded in his grandfather’s endless imagination, and this imagination inspired The Magician’s Secret.
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Hyman works on his children’s books throughout the year. Although he obviously has more time during the summers, writing also lets him escape from the pressure of pro hockey. In his fourth book, Hyman plans to return to a sports’ theme, like his first two books. This book will be about basketball.
Although basketball is a new sport for Hyman to write about, it will contain the same theme he shares in every book. It will be a story of a young person who tries to find his way by believing in himself.
What Do Hyman’s Teammates Think?
Hyman says his Maple Leaf teammates solidly back his career as an author. He has given each teammate a copy of each book he has written, and he notes that they keep asking for more copies as gifts for their family members.
His grandfather introduced Hyman to the idea of trusting your imagination. Sure enough, grandson is a Maple Leafs’ winger. He dreamt it, and he worked hard to get it. It’s a message Hyman chooses to both live and share. As he says, “I’ll find a way to make it work.”
Hyman’s Message in Life and in His Books
Clearly, Hyman’s careers merge. His sense of hard work and reaching his dreams is true in his life as a hockey player, and he is now sharing it into his books.
“The whole story,” Hyman said of The Magician’s Secret, “is about believing in your imagination.” Hyman’s message in his books is “old school.” Dream big; follow your dreams; and, work hard to achieve your goals. Obviously, these messages come from the author’s own life. You can’t become an NHL player without dreaming big and working hard to make that dream a reality. Certainly, Hyman’s own stories are real to him.
For now, Hyman is focusing on his hockey career with the Maple Leafs, but he is realistic. As reminds himself, ” You can’t play hockey forever, but you definitely can write forever.” “I get to live the life of a hockey player and also have writing.”
Hyman considers himself lucky to be able to both be an NHL player and a children’s author. And, really, how good is that dream?
The Old Prof (Jim Parsons, Sr.) taught for more than 40 years in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. He’s a Canadian boy, who has two degrees from the University of Kentucky and a doctorate from the University of Texas. He is now retired on Vancouver Island, where he lives with his family. His hobbies include playing with his hockey cards and simply being a sports fan – hockey, the Toronto Raptors, and CFL football (thinks Ricky Ray personifies how a professional athlete should act).
If you wonder why he doesn’t use his real name, it’s because his son – who’s also Jim Parsons – wrote for The Hockey Writers first and asked Jim Sr. to use another name so readers wouldn’t confuse their work.
Because Jim Sr. had worked in China, he adopted the Mandarin word for teacher (老師). The first character lǎo (老) means “old,” and the second character shī (師) means “teacher.” The literal translation of lǎoshī is “old teacher.” That became his pen name. Today, other than writing for The Hockey Writers, he teaches graduate students research design at several Canadian universities.
He looks forward to sharing his insights about the Toronto Maple Leafs and about how sports engages life more fully. His Twitter address is https://twitter.com/TheOldProf