Skrzypek father-son combo embracing sled hockey venture
It was always a dream of Eric Skrzypek to play hockey with his son.
Growing up and constantly being involved in sports, it just became an accepted fact that if he was fortunate to have a son, they would bond together through that avenue.
Eric was indeed fortunate and had a son, Luke. He hoped that one day, his boy would embrace the same love for hockey and they would be able to spend countless hours together on the ice.
But the dream as Eric had envisioned never came to fruition. Luke was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy, torpedoing his chance at a future involving sports.
“When you get the news that your kid is diagnosed with autism, speaking from a father’s standpoint, you go into mourning and you realize that some of those dreams you have die with that diagnosis,” Eric said. “But over time, you develop new dreams for your kid.”
And sometimes, though maybe not the way they originally had wanted, those original dreams could still become reality.
Through another disabled child, the Skrzypeks heard about sled hockey, part of the adaptive hockey program run by the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA). They called the CAHA liaison for adaptive hockey, Doris Donley, and asked about checking it out.
“Luke laughed the whole time he was on the ice,” Donley recalled. “They were so thankful to have found something for them to do together. And this family is there every week. Luke gets out of bed every Saturday morning and the first word out of his mouth is ‘hockey.’”
It did take some easing into it for Luke to really get comfortable with the atmosphere. With autism comes a lot of sensory issues and getting Luke into a new environment with new people and a new experience set some of them off.
But Eric knew that once he got comfortable, it was a situation that his son would really enjoy. All it took was the comfort of his father being there to help get Luke acclimated to sled hockey.
“We were touching every sensory issue known to man,” Eric said. “He was hesitant, but you could see in his eyes and how his body was reacting that he really wanted to do this. We got him in the sled and got his waist belt strapped and then went for his feet and he wanted nothing to do with it. I asked the staff to just let me skate with him without the feet strapped in. Once we got out there, you could see him start relaxing.”
For the first time in his life, Luke was involved in a team atmosphere, something Eric said he can see Luke desperately wanted to be involved in.
Every Saturday, Luke now gets to hit the ice and compete with other kids, and do it with his dad at his side. In a situation where Eric felt he had to adjust his dreams and ambitions for his son, he’s getting to watch one of the most important dreams unfold.
“He loves getting involved and trying sports, but getting into a team environment is very difficult,” Eric said. “What he enjoys is the feeling of being included. He’s never had that opportunity before.”
For all the branches of CAHA that has worked to make as many people involved in the sport of hockey as possible, the adaptive program stands out as one of the most impactful.
A quick glimpse at a family that is able to live out a dream that was long thought dead is the best example of what the organization is capable of. For Eric and Luke Skrzypek, sled hockey has been a saving grace of what was once a very difficult aspect of their life.
“This is probably the best thing that’s ever happened for Luke and our family,” Eric said. “Every place that we’ve ever gone with Luke, we get looks. From the moment I spoke with Doris, she has made us feel so welcome. We’ve never experienced that before.”
— Dan Mohrmann