Members of the Bud Light Ice Crew are renowned for their grace and diligence. They skate in synchrony while clearing the ice during breaks in the action and engage with fans at every opportunity at Blackhawks home games.
Their full-time jobs are even more demanding and essential, though, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic. Four members in particular serve on the front lines in the medical field where their services are especially urgent - Christine M. (speech language pathologist), Erica E. (emergency room nurse), Jackie M. (neuroscience nurse) and Yvonne T. (physical therapist).
"I work in acute in-patient rehab," said Christine M., who is in her second year on the Ice Crew. "A speech language pathologist can access and treat any areas of swallowing, speech and cognitive communication disorders. So my involvement specifically with the COVID-19 population is that we are seeing a lot of these patients being intubated on ventilators for an extended period of time, which causes muscle dis-use, muscle weakness, which then can result in dysphagia. That's a swallowing difficulty.
"We are seeing these patients become very, very weak, which will then warrant a doctor to order our service of speech and swallowing therapy. That's kind of our role in a nutshell.
"Something that we are seeing and keeps me optimistic is we are seeing a lot of these patients make progress, and that is why they need our service. They need therapy. So it is very nice to see these patients making progress and beating this tough battle and going home. It makes me want to work harder."
Jackie works in a neuroscience unit downtown, but has been working directly with COVID-19 patients during the crisis as well.
"We are kind of dividing our time between treating neuroscience patients - patients with strokes or brain cancer or seizures - and we also go into COVID units," Jackie M. said. "So my time is divided between several areas of the hospital. Working on my home unit and I am working on the COVID general medicine floors."
A member of the Ice Crew for four years, Jackie has done her best to balance her time when the Hawks are in session.
"I have a really good support system from my manager at the hospital to let me be part of the Ice Crew and kind of help me work around the schedule and figure out a good balance between working for the Ice Crew and working for the hospital," she said.
"It's kind of nice when you work three 12 ½-hour shifts and then you have four days off. It just depends on how you spend your days off. But I love being busy. I get bored if I am home by myself for one day. So I like being on my feet."
Yvonne has been a physical therapist for three years and is still operating in her role during the crisis.
Outside of work, she is also engaged and is hoping to have her wedding as planned in August. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to see family and friends, not to mention plan a wedding.
"It is not fun not to see your family," Yvonne said. "I feel like we are very family-oriented and we are close with them. So to not be able to be with them every weekend or so...and then the wedding is very unsure right now. I feel terrible for the brides in April. I just feel hopeful that in some capacity we will be able to have it.
"I just talked to our (wedding) venue and they brought up some interesting points. If we are still able to have it, that would be amazing. But it might look different. The servers might be wearing masks. Or the guests might be wearing masks and social distancing. That really kind of opened my eyes."
All of the ladies say they miss the camaraderie of skating with their Ice Crew members, who are coordinated by Jill Karsten.
"I miss the fans and I miss all the girls," Christine said. "It was something I really looked forward to after what could be a long stressful day at the hospital. Going to the United Center…it was just a whole different vibe and environment. It was a big outlet for me. I miss having that second part of my day, being with the girls and the fans.
"The girls and I would skate outside of just the Blackhawks games. We can't even do that. We can't just go to one of the neighborhood rinks and skate around. It's a big part of us that's missing right now."
Jackie added: "I definitely miss going into the Ice Crew locker room and being with all of the girls and talking and hanging out. It is so sad. I miss being in the (United Center) tunnel, looking up at the Blackhawks crowd and feeling the energy of the crowd. Listening to the National Anthem...those are what I miss the most. It's so hard. I haven't skated since the last home game (March 11)."
Yvonne said she is grateful for social media platforms, where she's able to keep in touch with her fellow Ice Crew members.
"We started doing Zoom meetings every two weeks just to check in on each other," Yvonne said. "You build friendships and everyone gets along well. But you definitely may be closer to some more than others. One of my Ice Crew members is actually in my wedding so I talk to her more frequently. And then we also have many group chats on social media to talk about things."