Schenectady County

Program aims to get disabled onto the ice

The Capital District Sled Warriors are now recruiting for their upcoming season and put on a display

Kim Wilson’s twin sons skated together Saturday afternoon at Union College’s Messa Rink to demonstrate the competitive outlets available to people who are physically disabled.

Eighteen-year-old brothers Ben and Luke Wilson moved around the rink with relative ease. Ben cruised around with a hockey stick, showing off the skills built up after 16 years on the ice. Luke, who has cerebral palsy, wasn’t held back by his disability, gliding along much lower to the ice, riding a sled with two skate blades on it and pushing himself with two shortened hockey sticks that also were used to handle the puck.

The demonstration highlighted the possibility of sled hockey, a competitive sport designed to provide an outlet for physically handicapped athletes. The Capital District Sled Warriors are now recruiting for their upcoming season and put on a display of what the game is like on Saturday.

For the Wilson twins, from Slingerlands, the discovery of sled hockey has allowed them to share a sport they both love. And not only can they share the ice, sled hockey rules allow three non-disabled players to play on a sled, which Ben will do.

In 2006, Luke got on the ice with the help of a sled and began playing hockey. At the time, Kim Wilson said there wasn’t a lot of local interest and it was hard to find players.

“Once they did try it, they played,” she said of those who would stumble onto the sport. “It’s that much fun.”

In 2009, the Capital Region team joined STRIDE, a nonprofit group dedicated to offering programs for individuals with special needs. Their roster of sports includes swimming, sailing, bowling, golf, bicycling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and hiking.

Now the team plays other teams from New York and neighboring states.

Kim said the availability of this sport has a deep impact on parents and potential players when they learn of it.

“Some of them cry, if they’re like me,” she said. “The first time I saw it, I cried, because my son had so wanted to play and this was a way for him to play.”

In addition to the competitive rush, players are also granted entry into the camaraderie of team sports they otherwise would have been denied.

Kim said hanging out in the locker room or traveling to games has a social benefit.

Saturday was the team’s first open clinic of the year for attracting new players.

Players abandoned wheelchairs, crutches and walkers in exchange for a sled. They were strapped down and pushed off onto the ice by volunteers. Then it was up to the athlete to push themselves along with their shortened sticks, which requires upper body strength.

The sport also allows for novices to compete against more seasoned players based on the distance separating the two skate blades on the sled. Newcomers could be identified by having more separation between the blades, with experts like Paul Schaus cruising around the ice on two closely placed blades.

Schaus was the only player Saturday who required the sled because he has no legs. The Iraq war veteran lost both his legs to a land mine.

Mark Moran, a program director with STRIDE, noted that helping military personnel has been part of its mission for almost a decade.

He added that Saturday’s event was also a chance to let people know of the winter opportunities through STRIDE, a program that already involves more than 1,000 Capital Region families.

To register for the sled hockey team, call Mark Moran at (518) 598-1279 or email [email protected]

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