Disabled programs getting plenty of support
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One of the primary goals of the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association is to promote and support the game at every level, and the disabled segment is no exception.
Comprised of sled and special hockey, disabled players of all ages – boys and girls – are afforded the opportunity to participate in the game thanks to the efforts of a select few organizations across the state.
“Both programs promote and develop the health and success of athletes with disabilities,” said Doris Donley, vice president of disabled hockey for the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association (CSAHA). “They foster skill, development and leadership and encourage team-building and sportsmanship amongst the players.”
Sled hockey is mainly for disabled athletes, but anyone can participate. It offers individuals with mobility limitations, amputees, Cerebral Palsy, Multiple Sclerosis, spinal injuries and able-bodied people with knee, leg or hip injuries the opportunity to get on the ice and compete.
There are two sled programs in the Colorado Springs area – the CSAHA Jr. Tigers (youth and adult; they are also beginning a Wounded Warriors program this month) and Patriots (Wounded Warriors) – and one in Denver – the Lil’ Avs (Adult A and B and youth).
The Jr. Tigers have close to 40 players involved in their program, with the Patriots at 15-20 and the Denver outfit with around 50, Donley estimates.
“Whether at a competitive or recreational level, sled hockey can help in improving the players’ attention span, self-confidence and decision-making skills,” said Donley. “They gain a sense of belonging and form lasting friendships with something they all have in common – a love for hockey.
“It also teaches them to work with others in a team environment, which is a skill that will aid them throughout life in school and in the workplace.”
Two local heroes among the sled hockey ranks are defensemen Tyler Carron (Fort Collins) and Nikko Landeros (Johnstown), both of whom helped lift the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team to a gold medal at this year’s Paralympic Winter Games, which were contested in Sochi, Russia, in March.
Bilateral amputees – they were injured after being hit by a car while changing a tire as juniors in high school – Carron and Landeros are members of the Colorado Avalanche sled hockey program and have represented the U.S. successfully in a number of international competitions.
“Our players are athletes,” said Donley. “They sweat, hurt, fail, persevere, learn and excel just like any other athlete in any other sport. They learn about sportsmanship, winning and losing, camaraderie and form lifelong bonds.”
Special hockey is designed for players with Down syndrome, Autism, ADD/ADHD or other developmental disorders that prevent them from participating in any other organized program.
There are two special hockey programs in the state: the Lafayette-based Colorado Ice Wizards and Littleton-based Colorado Golden Eagles.
The Ice Wizards outfit boasts 44 players, while the Golden Eagles have close to 50.
According to JoAnn Stephenson, team manager of the Ice Wizards program, special hockey is all about championing positive reinforcement amongst every player and coach; final scores, she says, are secondary.
“We give our athletes an opportunity to play the game in a safe, supportive environment,” said Stephenson. “In addition to learning about teamwork, our program enhances health and wellness, self-esteem and autonomy for individuals with cognitive challenges.”
– Brian McDonough