'Hockey is for everybody:' Alaska sled hockey team recruits new members
Sled hockey is a nationwide sport, but from its inclusion to its positive spirit of competition, there's something truly Alaskan about it.
The approach is a little different from the traditional sport. As opposed to skating, players take to the ice on sleds using their arms to propel them around.
For those who don't have the use of their legs, it opens up so many possibilities. That's why the Alaska Avalanche sled hockey team is always looking for new members.
Aiden Kemp is 14 and home-schooled. Four years ago, his body's immune system essentially turned on him, attacking his spinal cord. Now wheelchair bound, he's found an outlet he loves in sled hockey. He's even zeroed in on a position.
"Mostly defense — I'm more of a defense guy," he said. "Pretty much the best sport I've had, little bit different because you use two sticks instead of just one stick for playing. Also you're using your arms basically for everything you do."
The group recently welcomed in those at Subway Sports Center in Anchorage. Taylor Lipsett, a former paralympian and two-time gold medalist, was joined by U.S. National Women's Team goalie Rosie Robinson as they represented USA Hockey.
"One of the mottos for USA Hockey is hockey is for everyone," Lipsett, who runs a team in Dallas, said. "So no matter what your situation is there's some discipline of hockey that you can play and we really try to really involve everyone."
"Everybody's a little bit different, but that doesn't mean that they can't play the same sport," she said. "They might just do it a little but different, but we still get to play."
In some cases, those who want to play are willing to travel long distances.
Andrew Szahowski drove nearly 400 miles from North Pole. After losing his leg his to cancer, he decided it wasn't going to stop his career.
"Got up at 3 a.m. and was out the door," he said. "You know, I've seen it before when I was a stand up goalie and was like 'oh, that looks like fun.' Now that I've done it, a lot of respect for those guys."
Szahowski said he'll get as much ice time and practice as possible in North Pole and make the drive to Anchorage when he can. He hopes to be in the road trips too.
Michael Hanson, a pilot who survived a plane crash, but is now in a wheelchair, said having a disability shouldn't stop anyone from staying active.
"We're still alive, we still play sports, we just do it a little differently and you don't you have to be afraid to interact with us," he said. "We've got people on our sled team who are able bodied. It's just to be able to put a team together. We've got to have them, so we're always interested in anyone coming out interacting with us just because it's good to have those folks around. It's good to interact with people and we need them as well."
Jeff Dick is the team's head coach and also serves as Challenge Alaska's Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator.
"Reverse inclusion is a huge part of that," he said. "It's a great opportunity for people to truly understand some of the things people with disabilities face but more importantly after being in the sled they come away saying the athleticism required to do this is legitimate sport in its own right."
For more information or to check out a list of 2019 training dates, visit http://www.challengealaska.org.
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