By Barb Arland-Fye
From behind the protective glass at the ice rink, I watch my son Colin and other individuals with disabilities do stretching exercises while strapped in aluminum sleds. Another game of sled hockey is about to begin.
Using adaptive hockey sticks, the 25 players of all ages and various abilities fly across the ice with or without a helper pushing them. In the flurry of play it’s sometimes hard to distinguish one player from another because they all wear black helmets as well as red, blue and white jerseys over their protective padding.
This sport brings pure joy to the players, some of whom use wheel chairs and might not otherwise experience the exhilaration of sledding or skating. One young woman who uses a wheelchair off the ice sails across the rink at breakneck speed. She amazes me!
It’s good to see that Kenny, a man of about 60, is back. Family members from out of state make it possible for Kenny, who uses a wheelchair but doesn’t drive, to participate. His tiny and frail mother, now saddled with health challenges, used to get him here on her own every Sunday. Her tenacity inspired me.
Ricky, about 21, also is back, along with his devoted parents. Dad is Ricky’s “pusher” on the ice. Every move that Ricky makes off the ice requires extraordinary effort. He may get fatigued, but clearly enjoys sled hockey. His parents set an example for me through their patience and cheerful, loving dispositions.
For the longest time, though, I’ve struggled to “anticipate” sled hockey season and I approach each game with something less than enthusiasm. The chilly spectators’ stand takes me literally out of my comfort zone, but I suspect there’s something more to it than that. Plenty of other families, kids and adults, sit in the same stand cheering on their loved ones without complaint. If they get cold, they simply go out to the lobby and warm up!
I’ve reflected on my attitude in prayer, hoping for a sign from God that will help me to savor the 90-minute sled hockey games. Maybe that’s not the point, though. I don’t have to savor the games. I just need to be present for my son, for the other players, for the dedicated volunteers who make it possible for children and adults with disabilities to experience 90 minutes of bliss in a challenging life.
Last fall, a documentary titled “Soul on Ice” premiered that explored the history of black players in hockey and the hardships they had to overcome to break into the sport.
In a sense, the players with disabilities I watch taking aim at (and sometimes missing) the puck from ground level are breaking barriers even if they aren’t aware of it. They represent for me, souls on ice.
“Just 10 minutes to go, Mom,” my son Patrick tells me near the end of Sunday’s sled hockey game. I smile, realizing that I ought to set an example. I can savor what I have learned during these 15 years of attending sled hockey games. I can remember to be thankful for these souls on ice.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)