Stand Out: The True Story of a Hockey Hero Ajay Baines is an absolute pleasure to read. Over the years I have been sent a lot of books to read and review. Some were fine. Some were not worth my time, but this book is now one of my favourites. So, when I was told that Ajay and Sean would be willing to join me for an episode of the Diabetes Goddess Podcast, I was thrilled!
You can listen to the complete episode wherever you listen to podcasts or by clicking the button below.
Ajay Baines is a hockey legend and Calder cup winner. He recently teamed up with his childhood friend and author Sean Campbell to launch an illustrated children’s book about his life.
Ajay was a hockey prodigy growing up and despite being diagnosis in his teens, he went on to captain the Kamloops Blazers, score the winning goal in the Calder Cup for the Hamilton Bulldogs (The Montreal Canadian’s farm team at the time), and lead some of the best hockey players of all time.
Stand Out: The True Story of a Hockey Hero Ajay Baines is a fun and fascinating story created by two childhood friends. With strong themes of sportsmanship, inclusion, perseverance, and leadership.
So, without further ado, let me introduce to you Ajay Baines and his long-time friend and author, Sean Campbell.
A conversation with Ajay Baines and Sean Campbell
Barb: Good day gentleman! I am so happy to speak with you both today!
Sean: This is awesome.
Barb: I am so excited! I love the book. (Stand Out: The True Story of a Hockey Hero Ajay Baines) This is my favorite kind of book. It reminded me of a Robert Munch story. It had that sort of feel and it was just wonderful!
Ajay, how did it feel having someone do a book about you?
Ajay: Well, first of all, it wasn’t just anyone. It’s a very, very close friend of mine. When he originally came up with the idea, we were out at the lake with the families. I only just had my one daughter, and Sean had just had his second son. He came and said “I’d love to write a book about you. What do you think?” I said, “No man. I don’t really want a book about my career kind of thing.” He said, “No, how about we do it in a children’s style?”
At that point it was kind of okay. He said that it would be something that you could read to your daughter. Being a father now, that completely changes your perspective and so I was like, Okay!
Children’s style is a little bit different. We had to come up with the focal point of the book. We had great discussions. Sean said, “You had diabetes and being able to play and overcome with that would be a good message.”
Diabetes is a pretty common disease. A lot of people have it at any ages and stuff.
Sean’s talent shone through in the book.
Barb: How long have you guys been friends?
Ajay: We played soccer against each other in elementary school, probably grade 6-7 and then we started to become friends in grade eight. We started going to junior high together. Sean was supposed to go to the same elementary school, but his mom taught on the other side of town.
Sean: So, sports enemies in elementary school and then buddies in junior high on. Around 13 or 14years old.
Ajay: About 30 years now.
Barb: Ajay, you were diagnosed when you were 16, correct?
Ajay: Yes, that’s right 16. The summer of 1990.
Barb: The teenage years are hard anyway. Was Sean a help to you or did he lead you astray?
Ajay: Well, he was a bit of both. Like any teenager you want to have a plan and you know you’re in that growing stage, but he was there one of the first times my blood sugar dropped. I went low and, I have no problem talking about it, my best friends Sean and Adam were with me.
I had gotten my wisdom teeth out earlier that day in Vernon and we came back. We had a little kind of get together in a friend’s house on the other side of town. I didn’t eat enough that day because I couldn’t eat. I took a little bit too much insulin. Sean and Adam drove me back home and got some food into me and some juice and stuff.
I came around but I will never forget. It was the first time for them to see my sugar go low too. So, we have quite the history.
Barb: As a parent, knowing that your child’s friends are there in case of an emergency is the best thing.
Sean: Originally, I was like, “Ajay, this book should be about me saving your life. You know that one time? You remember:”
Part of the book is about how Ajay made a lot of mistakes early on and it really was that community of help. His friends, his physicians, his trainers were unreal. His coaches and teammates, when stuff like this happens it really helps to have that support around you in a big, big way.
Barb: Now there’s a bit more virtual support for parents, but when you’re the child–you’re the person going through it, to be able to have people, especially your own peers, to rely on is huge.
Ajay: As Sean said, playing a team sport where you’re so reliant on the people around you. Their help is everything.
Barb: When you were diagnosed, there weren’t really any CGMs, did you have an insulin pump or what sort of technology did you have to help you especially when you’re playing hockey?
Ajay: I was on multiple daily injections for a long time. I didn’t get on an insulin pump until I was 28. I’ll be honest, I think I could have got one a few years earlier, but I was a little hesitant.
I actually got it because of a guy I used to play against Toby Peterson. He was an unbelievable hockey player. He played with the Pittsburgh Penguins for a while, and I played against him in the minors. One of his teammates got traded to our team, Eric Meloche, and it goes through another guy Tom Kostopoulos who was also an amazing player. He played with the Montreal Canadians. I got to meet him, and we had a great chat and he put me in touch with Toby.
I started asking questions about the pump and Toby told me to try it. If I didn’t like it I could go back to needles, but he was like, “I guarantee you’re not gonna go back to needles just ‘cause you get way more balance with the pump.”
I haven’t gone back to needles since.
Sean: And that goes back to that community. It was someone he didn’t know, but there was a guy who gets traded who knows a guy, who knows a guy, and everyone puts the effort in to be like, “Oh well, maybe they can learn from each other. Maybe they could support each other, and they’re not teammates. There is a community within that diabetes community, and within the hockey community that everyone looks out for each other. It is pretty cool!
Ajay: Yes, so well said. It is weird because I have never told that story at all. You are the first one that has asked, “Have you always had the pump?” or “When did you get on the pump?” and I was thinking…this is how it happened!
Barb: It is fabulous. The diabetes community has been incredible for us over the past 23 years. They’ve always been so supportive. Being a BC girl myself, I also know how much support the hockey communities can provide. When the two can come together it offers you such great support going forward.
Ajay when did you start playing hockey?
Ajay: I started playing at about five years old. Peanuts I think is the league where you are just going out and practicing playing games and such.
Barb: So. what do your children think of the book?
Ajay: Yeah, it’s cool, and we’re pointing out that’s Daddy. She just turned 6, but I don’t think she’ll really appreciate it until she’s older.
Sean said when they get older it would be cool. They don’t know anything about what I did in hockey. It means nothing to them at this age, but maybe when they get older it will be kind of cool for them. When they have kids, they can read it to them.
Sean: We did get an opportunity to read to their classes. There’s a young man with diabetes in the school and so his class was all about–what is the pump? They were still thirsty to learn more. But from our kids’ standpoint?
My kids’ attention span is pretty small, so when they were first shown the book, they’re very excited. The next day couldn’t care less. They’re over it, but with my son, there was a special author visit that was on their schedule. The teacher was talking up and then it would it was like, “Oh that’s Dad!” He was blown away. He couldn’t imagine that level of celebrity. Stuff like that is so funny.
Barb: That is great!
Ajay, do you have any tips for young players who do have type one diabetes that are playing hockey?
Ajay: I think testing, using a CGM. Just knowing where your sugars are. The doctors have so much knowledge. These kids now are light years ahead of where I was in terms of training and what they eat now to compare what we were doing back then.
I think one of the biggest things is playing multiple games. Sometimes I would get too worried about my sugar being high. It is tough when you’re trying to find the balance, but we would play multiple games and you don’t need to take as much insulin.
Hockey is a very intense sport. It is one of those sports where a couple hours after the games is when your body comes down. I could eat whatever I wanted when I was playing because I would burn it off. Now I’ve got to take that insulin.
Barb: I would think that adrenaline would have a huge impact on your blood sugars.
Ajay: That’s right and that was one thing that I didn’t realize my first year that I had it. I was always wondering why my legs felt awful at the start of games and then I felt better by the second period. My blood sugar would skyrocket before the games because you’re so amped and as you said, adrenaline flowing through. You actually do need to take insulin for the game, so I started to give myself a couple units before the start so it wouldn’t spike too much. I started to feel better, but that was kind of trial and error.
Sean: Kids don’t always want to stand out when they are in school, and they can be shy about their diabetes. But it can be helpful to just like seek out those connections too, right?
There could be a million reasons not to ask really important questions or seek those people who may have more experience, but just know that you can and hopefully understand how supportive that community is. It’s certainly not a negative against you. It could be such a huge positive for your life to put yourself out there a little bit. I know it’s easier said than done, especially when you’re 12 or 15, or 19 or 20, but that’s good advice for a lot of people for a lot of things.
Barb: Absolutely, as you guys are proving, having a friend who knows what’s going on and not to keep your diabetes too private can literally be a lifesaver.
Ajay, what do you say to parents with children who are diagnosed with diabetes and are playing or want to play hockey?
Ajay: I guess depends on the parents. I remember that I was fine when I got diagnosed, but mom and dad were obviously sad. My first question was can I play hockey? Obviously, they have a million other questions going through their heads. Being a parent now, I totally understand.
I think in terms of if they want to play hockey, absolutely. Given the resources like Sean said. Let them try and if it’s something they love, this isn’t going to hold them back. There are many examples that you can look at in the sporting world.
Barb: Ajay, do you check your children at all for diabetes or is that anything that’s on your radar?
Ajay: No. It is a question that my wife and I have talked about but it might be a good idea.
Barb: Sean, you have other books. Can you tell me a little bit about your other books as well?
Sean: You bet. I’ve been writing kind of on and off for as long as I can remember, but very seriously since university. I had a writing partner and my dream in life was to be a published author. It was a huge goal and we ended up getting really serious after we got out of university. We got an agent in New York. We felt like were going all the way. We got our first book published and it kind of flopped for a few reasons.
I had written some books that were for kids for a little bit with this writing partner and then I went to school for publishing and took the masters of publishing program at SFU.
I started to work at Scholastics and so was obviously surrounded by kids’ books and kid lit. It was just it was something I really enjoyed anyway and then you know you start getting to the phase of life where you’re having kids. It’s just kind of perfect so my last two books have been kids’ books.
This is the third and it’s been amazing. I get to work with amazing illustrators who not only kind of take your idea and give life to it, but they really accentuated it. It really is like OK how am I going to work with this illustrator to make this come to life and be the best that I can be. It’s been awesome.
This was kind of extra special obviously because it was with a buddy. It was much more collaborative too because often when you’re writing it’s just you. You’re doing draft after draft. There’s lots of doubt and it takes a lot of time. You never you never know if it’s going to see the light of day, whereas with this one it was almost like you made a commitment to your buddy and so it’s going to happen. It was cool to kind of go back and forth and see it come to life.
Now that it’s out in the world, we continue to let everybody know about it and get to do interviews and that’s a really cool process.
“From his first hockey book to a cold icy pond, Ajay and this game formed a very strong bond. How could anyone not love this beautiful game? It’s all about the Crest and not your last name.”
That is from the first page of Stand out: The true story of hockey hero Ajay Baines. I promise you the rest of the book is just as wonderful!
I would like to thank Sean and Ajay for joining me today to share their incredible friendship and this really sweet book. If you would like to get your own copy you can order it through Amazon or Chapters or you can walk into your local Barnes and Noble store.
A percentage of all sales from this book will be donated to Diabetes Canada and the American Diabetes Association.
You can listen to the complete interview with Sean and Ajay on the Diabetes Goddess podcast wherever you hear your podcasts.