The State of Hockey. In Minnesota, it’s hard not to be touched by hockey. You’re a player. A parent. A family member. A fan. Hockey is fun. It’s competitive. It’s belonging to a team. So many of us grow up thinking that hockey will be a part of our children’s lives too someday. That’s not always the case, either by choice or by circumstance. And then sometimes, out of the blue, hockey touches you in a way you never anticipated.
My son Nicklas was born with a very rare syndrome that significantly affected his legs. Walking, standing, and running were all quite difficult and painful. Starting as an infant, he endured numerous orthopedic surgeries which unfortunately were ineffective in improving his challenges. As many of the little kids around him were learning soccer, taking dance lessons and starting out on the ice, my son was either preparing for surgery or recovering from one. One procedure seemed to flow into yet another as the years progressed. It was a different life than those around us.
The “normal” things in life that people often take for granted were replaced with a new “normal” for all of us. Nick had physical therapy instead of hockey practice, hospitalizations instead of tournaments. We embraced our “normal” and made it our own. Certainly, there were fleeting moments when we wondered what life might be like on the other side of the fence, but they were quickly replaced with thoughts of all the opportunities ahead of him.
At age eight, Nicklas made the life-changing choice to have his legs amputated. His first leg was amputated just after his ninth birthday. While in the hospital recovering, a physical therapist showed us an article about something called “sled hockey”. We had never heard of it before and it sounded strange. Playing hockey while seated in a sled that balanced on two skate blades?! I was a bit unsure. The season was starting and they were looking for players. Playing hockey had left the table as an option some nine years before but here it was, an opportunity. The first opportunity to play a sport. The first opportunity to be on a team. The first opportunity to try out someone else’s “normal”.
Nick was still healing from his amputation when he sat in a hockey sled the first time in 2007. I think I was more excited than he was as he pushed himself out on the ice, but it didn’t take long to spy an ear to ear grin inside the cage of his hockey helmet. I won’t forget the words of the coach as Nick came off the ice that day, “Wow! He’s a natural!” Those words meant so much to me as a mom. In a life where people are quick to call my son disabled, that man looked at me that day and told me my son was “abled”. Our “normal” became a little more entwined with other people’s “normal” the day Nick started playing hockey. It became even more so when my daughter Naomi, a cancer survivor herself, began playing as well in 2008.
Nick has played sled hockey each season since 2007 and this year Nick was thrilled to become of member of the Minnesota Northern, the adult sled hockey team.
Hockey has become an important part our lives and the lives of many other families that live a different type of “normal”. Hockey has brought all kinds of “normal” together and given us a common bond. We too are players, parents, family members and fans. We are the State of Hockey.
For information on all the programs offered through Minnesota Disabled Hockey (sled, special and Warriors Hockey for injured veterans), please contact Toni Gillen, USA Disabled Hockey Director, Minnesota District, at email@example.com or by phone at 651-307-0660.
Congratulations to Jim Westby (Roseville, MN), Rem Pitlick (Plymouth, MN) and Hunter Miska (North Branch, MN) on winning a USA Hockey Award!