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Diapers and hockey sticks

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CALGARY (CP) - Becky Kellar hoists her toddler son Owen with one arm while she wrestles him into his frog costume.

Picking up the 26-pound child comes after a two-hour hockey practice with Canada's Olympic team and a session in the weight room. The 30-year-old Kellar gives the term "hockey mom" new meaning as the veteran defenceman pursues the opportunity to play hockey in her third Olympic Games.

She also manages the host of other issues that come with raising Owen, whose first birthday is Saturday.

Working mothers with young children will identify with some of those issues, but others are unique to Kellar's situation and here's one:

Kellar took Owen trick-or-treating this week because when Halloween rolls around she'll be in Sweden, where the Canadian team has exhibition games, prior to travelling to Turin, Italy, for a pre-Olympic tournament later in the month.

"We have blocks everywhere," Kellar said, sweeping toys to the side of her condo floor with her foot while she readies a furry, green Owen to join teammate Hayley Wickenheiser's son Noah on a candy run to teammates' homes.

When Kellar and her husband Nolan Duke discussed how the pursuit of her Olympic dream was going to work - she living in Calgary with Owen and he living in Burlington, Ont., to run the family business - they decided Kellar must have a live-in nanny who was willing to relocate to Calgary for six months and be flexible enough work around Kellar's schedule of practices, games and travel.

That's a tall order when interviewing prospective nannies, but the couple managed to find one and that has made Kellar's situation doable.

"It was the only option we looked into because it was the only one that would work," she said.

Each player receives $1,500 a month in Sport Canada funding and Hockey Canada also subsidizes their living expenses with $2,550 per month, which helps Kellar pays for her nanny.

She said she qualifies for Sport Canada's one-time payment of $1,000 for childraising, which is nice, but doesn't cover one month.

In order to give Duke some time with his son, when the Canadian team is about to travel, Kellar then plays connect-the-dots as she figures out a way to drop Owen at home with Nolan and re-join the team without missing practices.

When the Canadian team went to Finland in August for the Four Nations Cup, the squad flew out of Vancouver, so Kellar's itinerary went as follows: Calgary to Toronto to hand off Owen to Nolan; Toronto to Vancouver the next day to join up with the team, which flew the following day to London.

Canada played the U.S. in a Saturday afternoon game in Saskatoon earlier this month and Kellar flew to Toronto immediately following the contest to retrieve Owen, whom she had dropped off in Burlington earlier that week.

"I think the coaching staff is going to hate me by the end of the year," Kellar said. "We just got back from the Saskatoon trip and I'm already at their door saying 'Do you know if we're all going to Europe and what our flight pattern is and how can I get Owen home?'

"It's a lot more planning obviously for them. I have to be on the ball."

Kellar had been hoarding the air miles she collected over the years flying with the Canadian team, assuming she and Duke would use them to go on a big trip one day.

But since Kellar's nanny often flies back and forth with her to visit her own family, Kellar says they have eaten through 190,000 air miles as they criss-cross the country.

Given her busy schedule, it's not surprising when Kellar gets on a plane by herself or with her teammates, she looks forward to uninterrupted sleeping or reading without Owen.

"I get kind of excited for it," she said. "But in a day I miss him.

"I just find right now because he's so small, when I go on the road, I can't talk to him on the phone. I wish he was old enough to at least hold the phone so he can listen."

When Canada travels to Columbus on Nov. 27 to play the Americans, Kellar is taking Owen with her and will hand him off to Duke, who is meeting her there and will take him home while Kellar travels to Chicago for another game.

Kellar and Duke each have notarized letters from lawyers stating one spouse knows where the other is taking Owen so border officials don't think he's being abducted by one parent.

"Coaches would not be impressed if we got detained at the border," said Kellar.

Kellar is not the first hockey player to combine her Olympic preparation with baby bottles and diapers. American forward Jenny Potter was centralized with the U.S. team in Lake Placid, N.Y., prior to the 2002 Games with her infant daughter Madison in tow.

Potter lived in a dorm that didn't allow athletes to have their children with them, so she boarded Madison with a family in town.

Wickenheiser adopted Noah, the son of boyfriend Tomas Pacina, prior to the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. She and Pacina, a hockey coach, live together in Calgary and haven't had to relocate as Kellar did.

But Wickenheiser struggled with being separated from Noah the months she played men's professional hockey in Finland in 2003 and that ultimately made her decide to come home mid-season.

Noah is now five. While Wickenheiser has Pacina, her parents and siblings to help out, her life is still hectic.

"This time he's in kindergarten and he's more active," Wickenheiser said. "He's in skating and in gymnastics and he's busy. Now I've become a shuttle bus service."

And like those who bring the office home with them, these players can have a hard time leaving hockey at the rink.

"There's points in the year when you're really consumed by what you do," Wickenheiser said. "You're maybe fatigued or things aren't going well on the ice or you've got a big game and the last thing you want to do is play Lego with him.

"But I find sometimes it actually helps to sit down and play Lego and forget about things. It sort of helps re-focus."

Kellar has accepted the fact that there are nights when she's going to fall into bed at 8:30 p.m.

"A year ago I probably would have thought '8:30 at night? You're five years or you're 80 years old. Other people don't go to bed that early,"' she said. "But that's OK. The road trips that some people maybe find more tiring, I catch up on my sleep and get more rested."

© The Canadian Press, 2005

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