There are some days that leave a lasting mark on your life. Years later you’re able to look back and pinpoint the day it all changed. For me, that day was Sunday, November 29, 1998. It was a mundane autumn Sunday, but for me it would end up being a catalyst to things I could never imagine. It would lead to friendships, experiences, travel, and ignite a passion that remains stronger than ever. What happened on that fateful day 22 years ago? One word: Power Hockey.
For those who are unaware, the parasport of power hockey is a version of hockey that was developed for individuals who use a power wheelchair. The sport is an opportunity to embrace the abilities of the athletes with disabilities and allow them to all compete together. The rules follow what you would see on the TV during an NHL broadcast or at your local ice rink, obviously adapted to reflect the difference between ice hockey and hockey in wheelchairs. For instance, you’re not going to find any penalty for Tripping in the rulebook, but you will find one for Dangerous Driving! cases. Power hockey organizations often have a recreational level that may include a local league as well as a higher level for a select group that attends a tournament each summer. Providing both types of competition allows individuals with varying degrees of disabilities to participate and compete to the best of their ability, finding their unique role on their team along the way.
That Sunday nearly 22 years ago, was the first time that I ever played the sport of power hockey. There was a small group of us, all preteens, which congregated at The Hugh MacMillan Rehabilitation Centre in Toronto for two hours. That time set forth a series of events that would change the lives of a number of us forever. The day was likely spent just trying to figure out how to drive our power wheelchairs and control a stick and ball at the same time (it’s a lot trickier than you might think!).
Almost immediately, the feeling of being able to play a sport empowered me. Not only was I testing myself physically, but I was also a part of a community. I had a sense of belonging which can at times be a challenging thing to find for individuals with disabilities. All of a sudden, Sundays were the best day of the week because for a couple of hours, I felt “normal”.
After five years as part of Toronto’s junior league, in 2003, at the age of 15, I decided it was time to move up to the older league for hockey. Now I would be playing against men and women mainly in their 20s and 30s, many of whom had been playing for years. This was the challenge I was looking for! After three years in the league, my team, the Jaguars, finally won the championship as an underdog.. That feeling of accomplishment was so surreal to me.
It was at this point that my mindset shifted. During my early years playing, I still had the strength to hold onto the stick. As such, I scored a lot of goals and was a main playmaker for my team. However, after almost ten years in the sport, I found my strength wane and I couldn’t hold the stick anymore. For a few years, as I bounced around teams, I had to transition to a more defensive role, mounting the stick on my chair and learning a new role. In 2008, I once again won the league championship and I took over the goaltending duties for my team. I know, I know, you must think I am a bit crazy to intentionally agree to put myself in front of whizzing balls, and believe me, getting one in the face is definitely not my idea of a good time! Alas, it’s a team sport and I took it to heart that I was an integral part of our team’s success, even winning Best Goaltender one year.
In 2010, my life changed again: I was named to the tournament team for the upcoming North American Power Hockey Cup. I would join the Toronto Rock, as we were called, and found myself as the starting goalie in our first game of the tournament (I was rather nervous to say the least!). Experiences like that quickly became the highlight of each year for the rest of my playing career. From the end of each regular season until that year’s tournament in July or August, an evolving group of friends practiced together. Friday nights were a special time, as we worked together to achieve the ultimate success. I was fortunate to play on seven tournament teams and win back-to-back Canadian national championships to cap off my 19 seasons playing the sport that I love.
It’s safe to say that the power hockey community, and especially my team, turned into a second family for me. Over the years, I have witnessed how the sport has this uncanny ability to connect people from within a community, as well as, nationally, and internationally. It draws us in because there’s a social component that intrinsically binds us in ways we never would have imagined. Young players find guidance from the veterans about how to navigate life with a disability, learn about self-advocacy, and build life skills like teamwork or critical thinking. These are indispensable connections. For our families, the community shows them that they are not alone in the challenges we collectively face and there’s a sense of comfort in knowing that. Like other sports, power hockey fosters friendships and relationships that extend well-beyond the game itself. It really has become a family for so many players, albeit an enormous one that crosses borders.
While all of this seems shockingly similar to conventional sports, for the power wheelchair user community, options to lead an active lifestyle are limited. Power hockey provides an open, inclusive environment and an opportunity to empower someone to become the best possible version of themselves. If perhaps power hockey isn’t right for you, that’s ok, but find what is. Being active and part of a community is key to living a fulfilled life. I have seen the impacts and personally experienced how being involved can be a catalyst for positive change. You have the power to make that change in your own life, so don’t let your disability define who you are or what you do.