The kick .. with a flying purple shoe
After Invictus Igwe graduated from Kennedy High in Granada Hills, Calif., in 2007, he moved out of his mother's home, feeling it was no longer fair for her to support him as she had three younger children to look after. He worked various jobs -- at a Vans store, as a barista at Starbucks, as a fitness instructor at a local YMCA.
Like many 18-year-olds, Igwe didn't have a clue about finances, and he soon found himself with $15,000 in credit card debt. "I wasn't doing bad things," he says. "I just didn't know how to live on my own." He got a higher paying job at an Apple Store, but an employee at his bank told him it would still take five years for him to pay down his debt. "It was so tormenting, it killed me," he says. "I just wanted to get out of debt." To save money, he alternated between sleeping at his friends' houses and his 2010 Honda Civic, which he parked at the Simi Valley Wal-Mart. "I stopped talking to [some of my] friends and just hid away because I was so depressed," Igwe says.
On Oct. 18 of last year, he and his closest friend attended a football game at Simi Valley High. When they took their seats, they overheard a couple asking why a 2014 Chevy Camaro was parked on the field. Igwe learned that he could a text a 777-number for a chance to win the car. He sent the text and a few minutes later, he received call from a number he didn't recognize. The caller told Igwe he had been picked to kick a 40-yard field goal at halftime, which if he made would win him the $24,000 Camaro. "At first I thought I was getting punked," he says.
When he walked onto the field, Igwe didn't look like someone capable of making a kick from that distance. He wore chinos and a pair of purple, size-12 Vans Era Pros. But he had made 50-yard field goals in high school. Leg strength was not his concern, but he was worried that his plant foot would slip, causing him to shank the kick.
Igwe marked off four backward steps and two to the left to form a 90-degree angle, clenched his fists and took a deep breath. He struck the ball cleanly, but he initially thought it would fall short. "In that split second, I was like, 'I just made a fool of myself.'" It didn't help his confidence that as the ball launched into the air so too did his right shoe. It flew off and to the left while the ball headed in the direction of the right goalpost, a purple shoe and a brown ball diverging in the night.
Igwe was wrong; he did have the distance, though barely. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced through the uprights. "I was just in shock," he says. "It's just one of those things you see on TV, but never expect to happen in real life." He ran to the end zone where he was mobbed by some Simi Valley players.
After the celebration died down, Igwe was given a choice: Take the Camaro or pocket $20,000. He took the money. He used it to pay off his debts, to sign a lease on a studio apartment, to start over clean.
"After I made the kick there were some kids at the game who when I told them I turned down the Camaro for the $20,000 were like, 'you're so stupid! Why didn't you take the car?'" he says. "I was like, 'When you get older, you'll understand.'"
Shot, score ... three times!
The MacDonald Auto Group in Sydney, Nova Scotia, sponsors a contest, the Trucks and Bucks Shootout, at home games for the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, a major junior hockey league team. Three callers to a local radio station are chosen to shoot for one of three prizes -- a car starter, $10,000, or a pickup truck -- between periods at that night's game.
The promotion has been ongoing since 2009, and in the first four years there wasn't a single winner of the two biggest prizes. That is not surprising, given the difficulty of the shots. To win the $10,000, a contestant must shoot a puck from center ice into a hole cut into a board placed in front of one net. The hole is 3.25 inches, which means there is 1/8 of an inch on either side of a three-inch puck.
Even for a seasoned hockey player, it is a near impossible feat. Charles-Eric Legare, a winger for the Screaming Eagles, once attempted the shot 20 times. He went 0-for-20.
What then are the odds that in a three-week stretch earlier this year, two contestants, neither of who had ever played hockey before, made that shot? "I couldn't believe it," says Jim MacDonald, owner of the company sponsoring the contest. "It's a pretty remarkable feat."
The first winner was LeNore Mugridge, a 33-year-old mother of four, who called into the radio station on Jan. 29 and, to her surprise, was selected to be a contestant. Her surprise was followed by alarm: She didn't even know how to hold a hockey stick. She spent that afternoon in her living room with her husband trying to learn. "I watch hockey, I'm a Canadian fan, but that's it. I've never played it or nothing," she says.
After she selected the envelope indicating that she would shoot for $10,000, Mugridge walked out to the ice at the end of the first period. She was wearing a helmet and the awkward way she held a hockey stick conveyed her inexperience. A radio host counted to three, and Mugridge slapped at the puck. It flew off her stick with surprising velocity; later, people would tell her she hit it too hard. "Everybody says that!" she says. "To me it was fine!" Especially when it slipped through that tiny hole and the crowd erupted. "I couldn't believe it," she says. "It was crazy, just stunned."
The second $10,000 winner was a Karie Shaw, a 24-year-old student and mother of two, who made her shot on Feb. 15. Like Mugridge, Shaw had never played ice hockey. The last time she remembers playing any form of the sport was on hardwood floors in high school gym class. Her only strategy for the shot was to stay as low to the ice as possible, presumably so she wouldn't fall down after she struck the puck. Later, she would watch footage of her $10,000 winning shot on the local news, see herself pumping her fists and jumping up and down, and remark at how silly she looked. "I was a little embarrassed," she says.
Mugridge and Lafflin's success was improbable enough, but on the same night Shaw made her shot, another 24-year-old, Megan Lafflin, was chosen to shoot for a new, Ford F-150 truck. The shot required to win that prize is even more difficult. Standing at the faceoff circle on one end of the ice, she needed to land a puck on the small dot inside the faceoff circle on the opposite end. Lafflin's hockey experience is so minimal that she chose to use a lefty stick even though she is right-handed. "It felt more comfortable," she says. "The other one just didn't feel right." Unlike Shaw, Lafflin was totally upright and standing far from the puck when she wacked at it. She did not think it had a chance to even reach its intended target until it crossed center ice. When the puck stopped, Lafflin could not tell that it had landed on the small circle. She only knew she'd won because of the crowd's reaction.
Mugridge says she will use a chunk of her $10,000 to help pay for her children's activities. There are basketball registration fees, choir and band costs. The rest she is using to improve her home. She replaced some rotten floors with new floating hardwood and also purchased a new refrigerator. Next, she will repaint the house and install a fireplace. "This is really going to help," she says.
Shaw plans to use part of her prize money to buy some new furniture and get new brakes and tires for her 2008 Mazda 3. Whatever she has left will be used to buy clothes for her two children and herself.
Lafflin isn't yet sure what she is going to do with her new car. She does not have a driver's license but has passed the written test and plans to take the road test in the near future. She works at Wal-Mart and hopes to begin college within the next two years. She was told she could choose a different car from the Ford Dealership in Sydney, but she is considering selling the $42,729 truck to help pay her tuition.
"It's a big deal," she says. "Definitely a big relief."