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Translations by Tomas Jandik
Mama Jagr: with Jarda on an Umbilical Cord (Interview with MF Dnes daily) - 29-Mar-06


“You look so familiar,” strangers say to her. “Those eyes, that resemblance. You must be…” Yes, it’s her. Both the mother and the trusty housekeeper of Jaromir Jagr. Her name is Anna. She will turn 60 this year, and for the last 16 years, she passionately and closely lives through all the victories of her son.

“If I can’t be at a hockey game,” she says, “I can’t fall asleep.” And now that Jaromir brought his Olympic bronze medal, she told him the usual. “I liked your game.”

Who came up with your nickname Mama Jagr?

I guess some hockey writers in Pittsburgh, where I used to be something like a club inventory. Jaromir played for 10 years there and I had not missed a single game. Those commentators actually even knew what I was cooking at home, because Jaromir tends to run his mouth. He told them: “You don’t know how to cook, you should see my mom.” And they instantly wanted to get invited for pork with cabbage and dumplings.

Who are all those people who call you mom?

His teammates, especially Jiri Slegr. But Jaromir calls me by my first name. Anca [=Annie]. It’s unusual, but friendly. And for me it sounds completely normal by now.

How do you react when somebody roughly fouls your son?

Like a mom. One can play cleanly, but for example Ruutu’s hit at the Olympics was malicious; I am totally convinced about that. At that time, I ….

… sweared?

Cried. I was not strictly angry at Ruutu, though I disapprove [what he did], I was more afraid what is with Jaromir. There is a player on every team that I am afraid of, so I at least give him advice. ‘You play Boston today? They have No. 25, Gill, pay close attention to him.’

Oh. So you really understand hockey.

But me and my husband have completely different eyes [for hockey]. According to him, Jaromir does everything wrong – he does not even have to be on the ice to screw something up. So that we don’t argue, we have 4 TV sets just in case.


Why do you think Jaromir has a reputation as a “momma’s boy”?

I don’t know, and I regret that. What’s paradoxical is that in our family, I am the fifth wheel, and my husband even tends to joke: “Forget fifth wheel, that’s a reserve – you are the sixth!”

So you really have no idea how it all originated?

Maybe during Jaromir’s first longer relationship with Iva Kubelkova. Somebody might have considered strange that all three of us lived together in America.

Girls often find it unpleasant.

Iva is actually a very smart girl, but at that time, she was very young as well. She was 18 at that time, and if that relationship started later, when they both matured, it would have been different. You know, it is extremely difficult for Jaromir to find a relationship when he is at home two months out of every year – and he has to practice at that time, too. It’s tough to find a girlfriend, and immediately take her along to America – you never know where such a relationship would go. It needed more tolerance by all parties then.

Do you regret that he broke up with Iva Kubelkova then?

No, I don’t. They both wanted to be No. 1, and it could never work out. Jaromir needs a diplomat, who can also have her career; but a guy needs to have a feeling that the No. 1 is him.

Can model Andrea Veresova do that?

I don’t know. But let Jaromir choose his girlfriend as he pleases, he is old enough. He will live with that woman – not us.

You are quite mysterious… Do these two even live together?

When I visited New York the last time, the word Andrea was not mentioned between me and Jaromir. I don’t ask him, and he does not have a need to confide to me.

Has Jaromir truly matured at the age of 34?

Guys are children all their lives… And I am unable to judge at this point whether Jaromir in particular will ever come to his senses, and starts taking things seriously. I can’t even imagine what he will do when he retires from playing hockey.

Maybe he will be wandering through life like people released from a prison.

Or like a child raised in an orphanage… I don’t know. He has always been patient in sports, but, for example, he would not have enough stamina to manage a firm. A person has to be tough for that kind of work, but he always excuses the others. He is not pushy enough, he would be constantly losing money, and so I hope he would be playing for a long time.

It doesn’t bother you that he still lives for hockey, and so your other grandchildren have been put on a long hold?

Maybe [the grandchildren] will come, and maybe there will be a lot of them. Or Jaromir at his age may gain some by marriage.

But a lot of his teammates and friends have had their families, and they play hockey mainly [for their loved ones].

It’s true that a life is not fulfilled without a family. But until now it looks like no right [girl] came for him to build [a family]. Even though children like him – for example, in New York, the kids of his teammates. The little Nieminen can be two, three years old, but he runs after Jaromir who teaches him how to speak Czech…. So it’s sad. However – how many of his friends, teammates, or classmates are already divorced! A lot of them.


Where is your home these days?

Naturally, I feel at home in the Czech Republic, among my own, but good people are everywhere.

So is that home even in the United States.

The first time I went there was in 1990 for the draft where Jaromir was selected, and never thought I would end up living there. Never in my life! I did not even want to travel there for the draft. Me and my husband were sending each other there… But then Pittsburgh that ended up picking Jaromir surprised us – their GM saw an 18 year lod kid who did not know how to speak English – and [the GM] immediately threw a party for the Czech and Slovak community. He said: “Pick a family that you like, and we will make sure that Jaromir feels there like at home.” I was supposed to stay with him there as well – at least for the start.

Did you immediately agree?

I really did not want, I had a week old granddaughter. But eventually both me and Jaromir left for America in July together.

So did your husband made you to go?

We did not argue about it. But it was clear that because we have been always doing everything for our children, we had to continue [helping them]. Even though it was tough – for example, the only thing I knew about the English language was that you pronounce and write differently.

By they way, have you always known that you had given a birth to a hockey player?

I never expected anything like that, but I am sure my husband knew. Jaromir was a big boy – [at birth] he weighed over 5 kilos {11 lbs.} and was 57 centimeters {22.5 inches} tall. So he had predispositions, which my husband knew immediately. And I liked hockey as well. If it were possible then, I would have played women’s hockey.


How do you like New York?

I can compare three cities: Pittsburgh, which is my second home, and we have been keeping a house there until these days. Even now I can go meat shopping, and my friends always laugh: “Yeah, we know that the best meat used to be in Pittsburgh…” I miss that city.

And then you moved to Washington…

…and I really did not like it there. It’s a political city, a lot of homeless people around the White House, concrete barriers, even the hockey [players] weren’t a coherent group, so Jaromir had there his worst times of his career.

And present New York?

I heard once, that it’s the city that never sleeps, and it true – even at midnight you run into crowds of people. Personally, I’d prefer a more quiet place for living. Pittsburgh.

Are you in New York often?

I go there only for visits, but then I have a lot to do. I take care of the boys, because Jaromir took his teammate Petr Prucha to live with him. I don’t mid – since the Pittsburgh days, I have been used to seeing the guys [at our place]; they came from a training camp, one was laying in a couch, the other was watching TV, Straka, Slegr, Lang… I would not have minded having five sons.


If Jaromir is by himself for some time, how messy does his place get?

Last time I arrived and I saw both Jaromir and Petr sleeping. I peaked into an empty fridge in the kitchen, so I immediately ran to do grocery shopping, and I cooked some food… And when those two woke up, Prucha said “How long will you be there?” So I replied “Petr! I just arrived and you want me to leave?” But that young boy said something pleasant “I just want to know for how long we will have food on our table and a clean place.” So he is somewhat of a slob, too. At least Jaromir isn’t like that alone.

How long did it take for you to learn English?

I had to learn by myself, and I was forty-five, so the beginnings were tough. I sat over all those books, and when Jaromir had a homework, I always wrote that for him – I was better at that. He was good at spoken English because he got that from his teammates, but he did not have to write that much.

And what about his reading?

He reads newspapers, but he does not read books. I have never seen any at his place. On the other hand, I actually prefer reading in English rather than speaking.

Do you ever speak in English with Jaromir?

We did not get there. Just when he makes me angry sometimes, I slip “shut up.” It’s faster than saying “zavøi klapaèku.”


Have you ever blamed yourself that you gave priority to Jaromir over the rest of the family?

No. I have a good daughter who understood everything. I mainly regretted not spending time with grandchildren, but if my mother lived long enough to enjoy her grand-grandchildren, maybe I will, too. Or grandchildren by Jaromir.

Were not the long separations detrimental to your marriage?

Maybe some sexologist should answer that… But no – we have always given preference to our children, so I’d say that this actually made our marriage stronger. If I stayed, maybe we’d be divorced by now {smiling}. And we’d be definitely on each other’s nerves.

Do you think so?

During his second season, Jaromir was by himself in America, and we were quite on edge here. When he was to play in the night, we were nervously waiting for him to call after the game – we did not know what was happening with him, and at the end me and my husband were a little annoyed at one another. Eventually I came back to America, and after the games once again automatically called my husband to let him know what’s going on. That’s what held our family together.

Why were you so nervous then?

I call that an umbilical cord. Whenever Jaromir plays in New York, and I am in Kladno, then I go to bed at midnight just to wake up at 1 AM. I start my computer, take earphones and only after the broadcast is over I can go back to bed again. Until then I am concerned about his health, and about the final result as well, because hockey is my life. And I’m telling you that it’s not just me who has such an umbilical cord – when Jaromir was called me crazy for not sleeping at nights, then Petr Prucha said: “My mom wakes up, too.”

If you were a young single girl, would you like to live with Jaromir?

No, I would not like to be involved with any athlete.

Why not?

It’s a terrible life. Spouses of athletes have a lot of things, many people are jealous of their cars, vacations, but it is not easy. They are constantly traveling or they are alone. They can’t go with their guys to the movies, because hockey players have matches after matches – a career is desperately short. I can live with that like a mom, but I doubt I would manage to cope with it as a partner.

Is Jaromir happy with such a stereotypical life?

I think he will miss it one day. For him, it’s like daily work in a factory.

The end of a career will apparently be quite tough for him…

I don’t think he realizes it yet, but I think it will. He really fell for hockey completely. But hopefully he will find some new hobbies, maybe family will come, too.


So what’s Jaromir’s attitude toward money?

Oh, now I really have to criticize him… For example, I hate mess in a wallet, so I keep taking all that small change from his pockets and keep putting all those banknotes back in an order over and over. I don’t know whom he inherited this tendency to be messy with money from, because even my husband is very orderly in this regard.

And what about higher sums of money? Does he even know how much he owns and where all that money is?

I’d say that he somehow does not give a damn. He lets his banker manage it, and occasionally he asks me how much he owns, because I have everything in my computer. He really doesn’t care. Money is something that his girlfriend or wife would have to control one day.

Do you mind a lot when he gambles in a casino?

You bet I don’t like it. But have you ever been in Las Vegas? Because if you haven’t, you haven’t seen America. One time, we went for a vacation first to Hawaii and then to Las Vegas; and whereas we were bored after a week on a beach in Hawaii, there were lots of attractions in Las Vegas every day. Illusionists, singers, concerts, everything. You can just walk in a casino – I thought that there was a sky above me, and only later I realized it was a ceiling! I can easily manage to spend a whole night looking at people enjoying themselves. And I don’t have to wage one single chip.

Yes, but Jaromir used to lose tens of thousands of dollars.

I sure did not agree with that, but similarly to his unwillingness to take my advice about choices of girlfriends, he would not listen to my opinion about this, either. He’d probably tell me to mind my own business. Because he is unbelievably competitive – when he finds out I play on a computer, he has to beat my record. He wants to be a record holder in everything.

What would have you done if Jaromir haven’t been born? Would you work on a farm?

But we work on a farm until these days – we still have about 30 hectares {~75 acres} of land, harvesters, crops. So even without hockey we would have lived the same way we do now. I might have spent a better part of last 15 years in America, but still – after the season we would always come back, unpack our suitcases – and off to the fields. I just don’t know what will happen after the generation of my husband is gone.

The children apparently won’t take the farm over.

I don’t even want to think about it, because farms always used to be inherited from one generation to another, and both me and my husband come from farm families. It’s all deeply rooted in us.

Before the regime change, were you happy when you were getting up at 5 PM to go to work in the fields?

I liked working there, I did not mind. During the Communist regime, I used to be harassed a lot, even since the school days – they put my dad to jail, the same with my husband’s dad. And maybe that’s why we had coded in our minds that we have to accomplish something and help our children. That gave us satisfaction.

Have you ever told Jaromir that you were proud of him?

Even when things go down, I tell him: “You lost, but I liked your game.” Maybe he needs to hear that sometimes. Even though he does not think highly of it.

Tomas Jandik is the resident Czech on LetsGoPens.com and is a man who unifies all the goodies of the American dream - meaning, of course, being a Pitt graduate, a Razorback, and a Penguins fan.

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