September 28, 2005
Sled hockey player shoots for 2006 Paralympic Games
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
BRANDON, Miss.—Before a car accident put him in a wheelchair at age 16, Joey Brinson was fearless on the football field.
“I was like 140 pounds and I would hit anybody,” said the former defensive back.
Brinson still plays full tilt, but the new arena for his aggression is the local ice rink.
The 29-year-old Brandon resident took up the game of sled hockey three years ago, and has since become a national contender in the fast-paced, full-contact sport.
He was recently chosen as a reserve player for the United States Sled Hockey Team, a position that could earn him a slot in the 2006 Paralympics. “I’m in line if someone gets hurt,” he said.
Such an injury isn’t out of the question given the sport’s trademark intensity. Sled hockey has as many hard knocks as the traditional game. The only difference is players get around on lightweight metal sleds instead of skates.
“You’re pretty much right there on each other,” Brinson said. “It’s not the sleds hitting each other—it’s body to body. And when you put somebody into the walls, the walls don’t move.”
A grant from Project START introduced sled hockey to Jackson, and Methodist Rehabilitation Center launched a team in September, 2002, said Ginny Boydston, director of the hospital’s therapeutic recreation program. Today, sled hockey in Mississippi is supported by Methodist, the Mississippi Paralysis Association and Ameristar Casino Vicksburg.
Methodist’s team consists of players with various levels of paralysis, and Boydston said Brinson, a paraplegic, was a standout from the start.
“He practices hard, he plays hard and he pursues the sport in every aspect,” she said.
To stay in shape for the game’s non-stop action, Brinson cross-trains by hand-cycling, wheelchair racing and lifting weights. Arm strength is important because players must propel themselves using shortened hockey sticks outfitted with ice-gripping picks on one end.
“It’s grueling,” Brinson said. “You do minute and a half to two-minute shifts and you’re all out the whole time. The only time you stop is for penalties and off-sides.”
Because Methodist hasn’t been able to field enough players for a full team, Brinson has had to hustle to get much-needed tournament playing time. “I play with whoever needs somebody,” he said. “I met the Colorado Avalanche at a tournament and they usually have a place for me to sit in. They call me Mississippi because I’m the only guy from here who travels and plays.”
On Aug. 19-21, Brinson played with Colorado as they faced the national sled hockey team. He said it was an educational experience he couldn’t afford to pass up. “I’m still learning, getting my skating skills down and the puck handling.”
Brinson has his sights set on making the U.S. Sled Hockey Team by 2007, and Boydston said she has no doubt that it’s a realistic goal. “He knows his position, he’s a team player and he has got the drive,” she said. “He made the reserve list this year and that’s hard to do. That means he’s one of the chosen ones.”
Joey Brinson, right, participates in a sled hockey clinic in Nashville, Tenn.
Joey Brinson, a Brandon resident, was recently chosen as a reserve player for the United States Sled Hockey Team, a position that could earn him a slot in the 2006 Paralympics.