This post is written in honor of the USA Sled Hockey Team who brought home the gold medal from this year’s 2018 Paralympics Games in PyeongChang, Korea with an overtime win defeating Canada, 2-1. GO TEAM USA!
Since many families ask me how to get their children involved in adaptive sports, I wanted to highlight the power of local sled hockey teams. The Center for Human Development (CHD) hosts teams for juniors (ages 4-17), a recreation level and travel team (ages 17+) at a local accessible arena. Ryan Kincade, the CHD Outreach Coordinator and Captain of the Western Mass Knights, along with Kim Lee, Vice President of CHD, and Jessica Levine, CHD Program Manager, took some time out of their busy schedules to talk with me about their hockey program and the power of sports.
But before I share their insights, you should know a few basics about sled hockey:
- Most of the rules are the same as traditional stand-up hockey.
- The players use sleds with skates to maneuver on the ice.
- Players use two sticks about 3 feet long for passing and shooting. Picks on the end of the sticks enable players to propel themselves on the ice.
- Players wear body pads, helmets, and gloves. Goalies wear gloves that have picks on the backside to assist with movement.
- Most players have ambulatory impairments, but some players at the youth and recreation level are fully able-bodied.
So now is here is what Ryan, Kim, and Jessica have to say about the CHD sled hockey program…
What do you hope athletes will gain on and off the ice from your program?
It’s about a sense of community. For many of our participants, physical activity is not part of their normal routine. Through sled hockey, they realize that can do so much more than they imagined. Our athletes gain physical and mental strength. For our parents, they get the opportunity to root their child on and observe peer-social relationships through athletics. It is also unique because siblings with or without disabilities can participate. The program can benefit the whole family and lead to participation in other CHD family activities like rock climbing.
What do you love about sled hockey?
Ryan: I love the community. I love getting gritty on the ice and then after having fun together. Just being a part of a team and the physicality of it. I like being successful with other like-minded individuals. As captain, I try to motivate others. I try to be positive and teach them about the sport and how to be a good teammate. It’s about learning how to win and lose. It’s about being positive.
Sled hockey becomes and an outlet for athletes to talk about their journey and to learn from each other. In ways, it becomes a therapeutic group where athletes can share personal experiences. Sled hockey is altering for a lot of our players. For the first time, they are not being looked at as different.
What is your best training tip for interested athletes?
Ryan: Train off the ice, just as hard as you do on the ice. Eat right and take care of yourself. Watch the sport, online or go to a game. Learn the positioning. Ask other players how to play and about the rules. Most importantly, be positive. Don’t implode and don’t show off.
How would you define ability?
Ryan: Ability is going beyond what you think is possible. It is pushing yourself just beyond your limit. It is individualized. Everyone has an ability and everyone needs to learn about their ability. Everyone can push a little harder to enhance their ability.
How would you describe your grittiest players?
Ryan: They have mental fortitude. They have a “Nothing can stop you attitude.” They take risks. They give hits and can take them. They don’t give up, not on the ice or in life.
How could community members support their local sled hockey program?
We believe everyone has the right to play and should have the accessibility to play. Therefore, we could always use hockey equipment. We accept donations of hockey pads, helmets, clothing and monetary donations to purchase sleds and sticks.
Check out these sites if you would like to learn more about local and national sled hockey programming: CHD Sled Hockey, USA Sled Hockey. You can also click here to watch highlights of Team USA’s gold medal win.