Writing the Athlete Hero

By Nan Comargue, author of Power Play

Power PlayBefore I ever turned my mind to writing about professional athletes, I was already a fan. I know a little about rugby and a little more about baseball but my true sports love has always been hockey.

Of course, when I was a little girl, I thought sports were for boys, more or less. I knew female athletes existed but I had absolutely no desire (or talent) to be one. Sure, I watched the Toronto Blue Jays win back to back World Series’ in my childhood, but that was just patriotism, eh?

Well, as a good Canadian gal, I eventually got into hockey in my teens and twenties. It certainly helped the world junior series every winter holiday season was peppered with young hot males—I crushed on just about every one of them when I was sixteen. Later, as those same boys became men and were drafted into the big leagues, I followed their careers with half an eye on their statistics and the other on their faces. The bulky hockey equipment players wear doesn’t let you see much more than their faces, which is really too bad.

Over the years, I learned about special teams and the neutral zone trap. I began to spot off side players before the commentators did. I started to make calls in my living room that conflicted with that of the referees’—and I was sure that I was right. These were skills I needed to talk about hockey in my novel. Since the hero in my contemporary romance, Power Play, is a goaltender, I had to know whether he was the kind of goalie who poke checked or went down in a butterfly, if he played the puck a lot or stayed close to the crease. It’s hard to fake that kind of authenticity without some research and mine was done the fun way—by watching a ton of games.

I followed a favourite team or two on the ice and the hockey players’ personal lives off the ice. Increasingly, these good Canadian (and American, and Russian, and Czech) men were dating models and starlets and becoming famous themselves. Their personal lives were being showcased in calendars, on television shows and even a specialty lifestyle program about players that aired on national television.

In Power Play, I imported much of this personal-public tension into my characters’ lives. Part of what keeps the heroine Lila wary of her goaltender husband Cahal is his public appeal and what she perceives to be his need to maintain a squeaky clean reputation so he can win endorsements and sell jerseys. Even the stalker they face is now an often typical issue in a professional player’s life.

Another complicated aspect to players’ lives shows up in my novel: trades. Athletes move around during their careers, leaving on team and joining another, often when they don’t really want to move. That means uprooting their families and lives and starting afresh somewhere new, perhaps hundreds of miles away. In Power Play, Lila faced years of this life with her husband and when they separate based on his infidelity, she returns to their hometown of Toronto, symbolically rejecting the life they shared.

Athletes are public figures with a lot of the ingredients that make for good romantic heroes: wealth, talent, good looks, and strong personalities. Oh, and did I mention great bodies?
So why hockey players? Well, for one, they’re tough and they wear their injuries openly to show it. There is something about a black eye or a scar that makes a hockey player look particularly primal and sexy. It calls to the cavewomen in all of us.

No doubt, athletes are sexy. They display the most primitive form of male dominance: physical superiority. Coupled with wealth and public admiration, they can make the best and worst of partners—as my heroine finds out.

If you want to write a romance featuring a professional athlete, you really have two choices. You can make the game a central part of the romance, as I did, showing the struggles that came with playing sport at the highest level and the impact it had on families who loved and supported the athlete. Or you can make the game a part of the background. One of my favourite contemporary romances features a tennis pro who we never see playing tennis (he becomes a coach after an injury). If you do want to make the sport more central, I suggest you do your research. Your (sports) fans will thank you.

Are hockey players your favorite athletes too? Or do you prefer a different sort of sportsman?

2 thoughts on “Writing the Athlete Hero

  1. Katie Kenyhercz (On the Fly)

    You know I’m a hockey fan! For me, it’s important to incorporate the hockey world as much as possible in my books. I want to highlight everything I love about the sport and bring it to life for my readers. Even if readers aren’t hockey fans when they start my books, I hope they’re at least curious and appreciative of the sport by the end. The men are hot, but what sets hockey apart from other sports is the intense brotherhood and the pure beauty of the game. It’s lovely to watch. For as fast as it can be, the players are so graceful, their movements smooth and apparently effortless. The way the flow around each other, it’s almost like a choreographed dance, but it’s all improvised, which makes it all the more impressive. My hockey romance, On the Fly comes out March 18th from Crimson 🙂 Cheers, Nan!

    1. elleyarden

      Katie, I grew up the daughter of a hockey coach and logged many hours at the rink. You’re so right about flow and how the movements almost appear choreographed. I mean who can move like that at such a high rate of speed? And these guys aren’t small either. It’s crazy impressive.

      Good luck with your release!

      Nan, while I appreciate all athletes, baseball is my thing. It’s so cold in my neck of the woods right now I’d give anything for nine innings on a warm July night. 🙂