MS. REBECCA SHEIR
It's hard to do a show about health and wellness without mentioning athletics. And our next story is about the guts and glory of one of the more aggressive sports out there, hockey. Emily Friedman headed to Ballston, Va. to visit the Washington Capital's practice rink, Kettler Capital's Iceplex and brings us the story behind one of our city's most vibrant hockey teams, the D.C. Sled Sharks.
MS. EMILY FRIEDMAN
The D.C. Sled Sharks are down 4-0 at the end of the second period. A few of the top players are out with injuries and they're down to six, just enough to play, no subs. It's not looking good but the team isn't too discouraged. Actually, they look pretty happy.
MR. BRIAN DUTTON
They love throwing big hits. Everything about hockey, these guys are into.
That's Coach Brian Dutton.
Well, we've had kids with spina bifida, we've had amputees, we've had conjoined twins at the head out here, so we had two players that were connected at the head on two different sleds.
Sled hockey, or sledge hockey, as the Europeans call it, was invented by three Swedish wheelchair athletes back in 1961. The athletes decided there had to be a way to translate NHL style hockey into a game for people who can't use their legs. The three Swedes decided that instead of skating players would sit on a tiny sled with two blades under it, blades just like the kind on hockey skates.
And on top of that sled contraption is a bucket that they sit in.
Which is not actually a bucket, but more like a backrest to hold the player's torso up. Their legs are strapped into the sled and they hold two short hockey sticks, maybe a third the size of a traditional hockey stick. On one end is the blade to hit the puck and on the other end there's metal teeth, which players dig into the ice to move around the rink.
Shoot. There you go.
Within a year of the game's invention, there were five teams in Stockholm and by 1994 sled hockey made it to the Para-Olympic games.
MS. JOAN JOYCE
What's nice for the children to from a physical point is that it's the opposite movement than pushing their wheelchair. So if you have a wheelchair user and they're always pushing forward, when they're skating, they're pulling back.
Joan Joyce is the manager of the Sled Sharks. She's also the recreation therapy coordinator at National Rehabilitation Hospital, the organizer and main sponsor for the team. NRH has a Para-Olympic sports club, which also organizes teams for wheelchair basketball, quad-rugby, wheelchair tennis and hand-cycling.
One of my favorite moments was we had one of the kids, who's on the team, is in high school and we had just come out and he was going down the hall in his wheelchair and this able-bodied kid stopped him and said, Vitaly, what are you doing here? And he goes, I'm on a hockey team. You're on a hockey team? You know, and the kid was shocked and the kid's on a hockey team so it gave them a connection that they hadn't had before.
In the final period of the game, Connor Delaney is playing defense. He's the youngest one on the team and by far, the smallest.
I'm Ciel (sp?) Delaney, mom of Connor Delaney, number 25 on the D.C. Sled Sharks. Connor was born early, 12 weeks early. He has cerebral palsy, other than that, he's 100 percent typical boy.
In the past, Connor had played sports for kids with disabilities, but no one kept score and that, he told his mother, was not what he wanted.
Like any typical male, they're competitive. He wants to be out there playing, wants to go fast and wants to score and, you know, now he can.
Connor, she says, has been playing now for almost two years and loving it.
It changed his life, which changed our life when he joined the team.
After the game, Connor's father, Pat Delaney, helps pull the players and their sleds off the ice. The Sharks lost 5-1.
Hello, Mr. Peanut, how are you?
MR. CONNOR DELANEY
Well, I'm sweating so badly. We had no subs.
During a postgame interview, I ask Connor about the game. At nine years old, he handles it like a pro, spinning a loss into the makings of a great underdog story.
We are kind of a new team so we are losing a little bit but we'll get better and we'll keep on going and we'll keep trying and we're going to get better.
As far as Connor is concerned, he plans to keep playing the sport and, of course, winning for a long time. I'm Emily Friedman.
To see photos of the Sled Sharks in action, head to our website, metroconnection.org.
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