September 18, 2002
Gold medal winning Paralympians help state launch first sled hockey team
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
JACKSON, Miss.—With a little help from a few guys who had a big win in Utah last winter, Methodist Rehabilitation Center has a new sled hockey team—the first of its kind in Mississippi and one of only a few in the nation.
Members of the 2002 gold medal-winning US Paralympic sled hockey team came to Jackson to put 20 physically challenged athletes from around the state through a clinic to learn the game.
“I was really impressed with how quickly this group picked it up,” said Dave Conklin, of LaCrosse, Wis., a winger on the U.S. team that won top honors over Portugal in Salt Lake City’s Paralympic games. “If they stay after it, this is going to be a great team.”
The clinic began with video footage of the gold medal-winning performance that not only served to instruct, but also to motivate.
“It was amazing to see these guys playing against the best in the world and then turn to your right and see them sitting beside you,” said Sheila Burnham, a paraplegic from Madison. “After we watched that tape, we couldn’t wait to get out there and hit the ice.”
Sunday morning, trainers from the Nashville sled hockey team and a player from Dallas helped clinic participants get dressed out and learn the basics of skating, passing and shooting.
The rules for sled hockey are no different than regular hockey, but athletes play sitting in metal sleds atop two skate blades. Each player uses two sticks with picks attached at the ends to propel themselves forward. The opposite ends of the sticks are curved to allow players to handle and shoot the puck.
Anyone with a disability that prevents them from playing able-bodied hockey is eligible for sled hockey.
The sport got its start in the 1960s at a rehabilitation hospital in Stockholm, Sweden. A group of athletes who had played hockey before their injuries came up with the idea to continue playing in sleds with hockey skates attached to them. It became an official sport at the 1994 Paralympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway where Sweden won the first gold medal.
In Jackson, officials from the Ice Park and the Jackson Bandits of the East Coast Hockey League offered their support to help get Methodist Rehab’s team off the ground.
“We’ve ordered equipment and received donations and help from the Bandits, so we’re well on our way to setting a date for the team’s first official practice,” said Ginny Boydston, director of therapeutic recreation at Methodist Rehab.
Boydston said she wanted to bring disabled ice hockey to Mississippi to provide the state’s disabled with another outlet for sport and exercise.
“There should be something for everyone regardless of their disability. An active lifestyle should be part of everyone’s daily routine,” Boydston said. “If someone doesn’t want to ski, they can rock climb. If they don’t want to play rugby, there’s tennis. And now, we’re going to have hockey.”
In the last few years, southerners have caught on to hockey as more teams like the Bandits have moved to the region.
“And sled hockey is an all-inclusive sport,” said Conklin. “It’s co-ed and there aren’t age requirements. Anybody can play and that’s part of what makes it so much fun.”
Kevin Kimble, a Ridgeland resident and paraplegic, figures to play a lead role on the new team. “It’s exciting because it’s a team sport and it’s physically demanding. I love the action, the contact and the speed of it all,” he said.
“It’s a sport where developing your skills will enhance your enjoyment of the game,” Kimble added. “There are a lot of challenges when you first start, but as I get better at them, I think I’m going to like playing even more.”
Practice sessions will be more frequent in the coming months as the new team prepares for its first game. Jackson now joins Dallas and Nashville on a small list of southern cities that have sled hockey teams.
Paralympian gold medalists Dave Conklin and Lonnie Hannah warm up before a sled hockey team practice session at the Ice Park on Lakeland.
Tammy Voynik, vice president of legal affairs at Methodist, celebrates a winning goal as Ryan Alter looks on.
Paralympian Dave Conklin coaches physically challenged athletes Josh Sharpe, left, and Sheila Burnham, top, who are members of Methodist Rehabilitation Center's new sled hockey team.