June 16, 2003
Sled hockey popular among physically challenged athletes
By Collin Johnson
Health and Research News Service
FLOWOOD—For a group of physically challenged athletes from Methodist Rehabilitation Center, the arrival of summer isn’t signaled by heat and humidity, but rather cold and ice. Throughout the summer they will gather at The Ice Park in Flowood for weekly sled hockey practice sessions. Coached by Methodist Rehab therapists, they will form the state’s first sled hockey team.
The rules for sled hockey are no different than regular hockey, but disabled 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.
“We have a talented group of athletes who love to compete and have caught on quickly to how the game is played,” said Ginny Boydston, therapeutic recreation director at Methodist Rehab. “Anyone with a disability that prevents them from playing able-bodied hockey is eligible for sled hockey.”
Last September 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 2002 Paralympic games. “If they stay after it, this is going to be a great team.”
Boydston said she wanted to bring disabled ice hockey to Mississippi to provide the state’s physically challenged athletes 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 have hockey.”
Sled hockey 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.
“And sled hockey is an all-inclusive sport,” said Boydston. “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, is 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.
Mississippi Project START—a program designed to ensure disabled Mississippians have access to assistive technology—donated $12,788 to Methodist Rehab’s therapeutic recreation program to help fund its new sled hockey team.
Kevin Kimble leads the pack in the race to regain possession of the puck. Kimble and other physically challenged athletes are forming the state's first sled hockey team.
Johnny McGinn, a member of Methodist Rehabilitation Center's sled hockey team, takes a shot at the goal.
Robbie Sullivan takes a spill as he rushes to gain possession of the puck. Sullivan, a physically challenged athlete is part of Methodist Rehabilitation Center's sled hockey team.