When the Calgary Flames announced their new head coach in June of 2016, the city was excited for the “bench boss” to come and lead their team. I, personally was overjoyed with hearing the news that Glen Gulutzan and his family were moving to Calgary as it meant I was going to be in the same town, once again after 40 years, as my childhood friend, his wife, Nicole Gulutzan (aka Nikki Foster).
Nicole Gulutzan is familiar with relocating. Growing up her father’s work as an engineer took their family to many different oil towns across the west. Her mom was the skip for the Alberta team that won the 2008 World Curling Championship. Saying goodbye was never easy, and as much as she would miss the close friends she made in each city, she intuitively knew that going back would never be the same. She has learned with much joy – and a few sorrows – that moving forward and embracing each new place and the many new faces is the only way to not just survive, but to continue to example the meaning of thrive – with happiness.
Happiness is the word that Nicole used to sum up what she most desires in each aspect of wellness.
For Nicole, Calgary happens to be a city she once called home. She graduated from Wisewood High School and attained her first degree, Kinesiology, at the University of Calgary. In many ways, for her, after having lived in a total of 11 cities in her lifetime so far, there was a sense of comfort in returning to Calgary, and yet this move presented a whole new dynamic of unknowns as she merges a trickle of familiarity with a flood of completely foreign. Regardless, Nicole has set her resolve to make this move the best it can be for herself, her husband, her children, and all those in her new town.
The “home boss” of the Flames’ head coach’s most important team of four children, Nicole still has the same fire of passion, drive and ability to excel and to rise above that I remember. Wisdom and experience have taught her that happiness can never be taken for granted and that each day presents possibility to make a positive impact, but opportunities must be seized and journeys embarked on. To generate the impression and make the impact she truly desires, she knows it takes making conscious choices, and listening to that little voice when it tells her to go. Her inspiration to be her personal best for everyone around her, near and far, are her children and what they see and learn from her and her husband’s examples. This “home team” atmosphere could possibly be the very reason Glen Gulutzan has the greatest chance of leading our Calgary Flames to a cup of victory.
As children, Nicole, being older than I by 8 months, was a friend that I looked up to and admired. When I was still struggling to learn to do a somersault, she was already doing back handsprings off the bed. She was that friend who slid down the stairs with me in a sleeping bag, and then when that was not enough we got out the laundry basket. We talked about which fairytale princess we would be most like when we grew up, how many children we would have. We even imagined the prince who would one day sweep us off our feet. Well, I don’t remember anything about hockey in the fairytales and she and I know for sure that nothing in life comes without a lot of hard work, but at least my beautiful friend finally has the stairway in her home that one might picture in Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Many might assume that a pro-hockey family lives a life of glam, but the reality is, that the Gulutzan family’s lives are much like most Calgary families’. When there is a cheer in the Gulutzan home it is usually because one of the children scored a goal or received the MVP award. All four children, ages 9 to 16 play hockey along with other sports. Not that they don’t support their dad, because that is what a true team does, but mom, dad, grandma grandpa, aunties and uncles are their biggest fans. The other night when Nicole texted me at 7:30 in the evening, she finally had 15 minutes to take a quick shower after a long day of running around, then home to make butter chicken for her in-laws before she had to rush out the door to get the children to a game of their own. I read the text, looked up at the television, and saw the Flames were winning by 1.
For two people who, at one time, were unsure if they ever would marry or have children, Nicole and Glen cherish their children and the life they have today. They appreciate what it means to have a family, and to be a family, as they are surrounded by supportive family from both sides. Nicole also suffered two miscarriages between children, which is an extremely difficult loss to endure, but it reminds her of her four blessings. They take the responsibility of raising “good people” to heart, and know that their children learn from them; therefore, they must be “good people” first. Both Glen and Nicole have tendencies to be introverts, yet they realize the importance of open communication and solid connection for success in all of their interactions. There was a time Nicole felt she could have easily stayed in the safety of her quiet shell that grew with each move; especially after the initially difficult move from Dallas to White Rock, BC. But her husband helped coach her out of her building armor by instilling the importance of talking, and encouraging her to open up and find joy in the greatness of this life she had been dealt with. After he challenged her, she then challenged her inner-self: once a week she would walk 4 miles along the ocean shore ,and up 1001 steps, and took the time to really listen to her own voice. What transpired from these walks and hours of inner work was the beauty of her; the beauty of the heart of a woman who longs to make a difference, a woman who needed to open and embrace life as it came and as it went. Through this learning to receive, she realized how much she had to give. She ended up meeting some of her closest friends during Glen’s assistant coaching position for the Vancouver Canucks, and now finds herself seeking out opportunities to reach out, to open up and embrace others and the world around her to the fullest. She has even felt, at times, selfish for giving because of the amount her own heart is filled and fueled each time she reaches out to help another’s.
Having met at a wedding when she was 25 and he 27, Nicole and Glen have truly had to work together to become the team and the leaders they are. When one was down the other stepped up and became the supporter and the strength, and this continues today as Nicole supports her husband in his new position. Glen makes her smile; especially when he is happy and telling jokes, as he is often known and needed to be serious. She says he is actually really funny and enjoys that side of him. Her special needs aunt also makes her smile when she hears her aunt say the words, “Thank you Cole.”
She finds beauty in nature and is reminded to take time to really enjoy the colours and sites in nature as she points them out to her to children, so that they too will notice. She loves being around her friends and values the true meaning of friendship.
If Nicole were to teach the entire world one thing it would be that happiness is the most important thing. To achieve this, she says it requires learning to being true to one’s self.
“It is o.k. to think about yourself,” she explains. “To be true to yourself by following your own instincts is how you really become true to everyone else.”
She believes that it is not only what you do for others, but in how you do it that matters most. To take care of her emotional happiness, she knows she must take care of her mental and physical self. She loves to exercise and is very fit; she has even recently looked into pursuing teaching at Orange Theory. Health, for herself and her family, led her to DoTerra Essential Oils. She believes the oils have changed her life in a very profound way and incorporating them into her world has become a passion because of the positive impact they have made on her and her families’ well-being. She believes that combining natural healing with modern medicine is most effective for optimum health.
Glen describes Nicole as the most non-judgmental person he has ever met. Her form of judgement is to simply use her intrinsic ability to understand people to then decide whether to walk towards someone – or not. She is compassionate and often passive, as she does not like controversy, but she also has a strong competitive side. When challenged by another the real win for her is when she meets the greater challenge, which is the one she creates for herself. To overcome and rise above obstacles, she does not try to pass other’s tests, but is determined to surpass her own. She does not consider herself a dreamer, perhaps she is a doer. But she does dream of living long enough to know her children’s children.
Having you and your children walk into a café to read on the front page of the newspaper that their dad should be fired, is never going to be easy, nor should it be. And yet this is the life and the reality for the Gulutzan family. Resilience is key; yet balanced resilience to remain soft and open and not close up is the golden key. She continues to care and to give with a generous heart, even though she has spent much of her life in the vulnerable place of new beginnings. A significant turn of events in her life taught her to let go of the past and that each day is a new beginning. She knows the reality of being human, the magnitude of forgiveness, the power in the words, “I am sorry”, and the importance of moving forward. She knows who she is; she is herself, and that person is good from the core. She is an amazing supporter as a wife, a mother and a friend, who believes in teaching by example.
“I want my kids to be that way.”
Over the years we have run into each other as our families always seemed to be connected. She lived in a house my parents owned in Edmonton while she attended the University of Alberta obtaining her second degree in occupational therapy. Glen also coached my brother-in- law, in Las Vegas. I always knew where she was living and what she was doing on the outside, but what brought tears to my eyes, when we finally were able to really catch up, is what really mattered – what was going on in her heart through all these years. I am blessed to have my old friend back in my life, hopefully here – for at least the next 6 to 10 years – and even more blessed that she is truly as great as she has always been. Thank you, Nikki, for being you.