Returned Passion

I’d like you to meet, Ben. He’s a mechanic and a dad who lives in a small town up near the Vermont border. After a motor vehicle accident left him disabled, he had to work through a lot of anger. His life had changed significantly and permanently. The woman he was married to left him, saying he was too full of anger. As his world seemed to fall apart, he entertained thoughts of suicide. With time and some help, including from his daughter, Ben regained his focus and started to change things around, but it wasn’t easy.

Before, he had been a field mechanic working on huge pieces of machinery at remote work sites. He managed to reinvent himself by opening a business repairing small engines and power equipment. He will tell you it wasn’t the same, but he was self-sufficient and putting his mechanical skills to good use. Still, there was something missing from his life…something to be passionate about…something that involved his family.

Ben wasn’t a big sports guy before his accident, but he kept getting advised to look into wheelchair sports as a way to get out, meet some people, and enjoy some healthy competition. It took a lot of convincing, but he finally decided to try wheelchair soccer through Disability Resources.

Early on he found himself in a wheelchair soccer tournament. He was new to the game, he did not play well and his team lost. He was furious. In his agitated state, he told Nancy Bazanchuk, CHD’s Disability Resource Program Director, that this was a waste of time and he wasn’t coming back. Nancy recalls that Ben’s “colorful” language would make a sailor blush.

About an hour later, Nancy got a phone call. It was Ben, calling to apologize to Nancy for yelling – and to thank her for giving him something to be passionate about!  “I haven’t been this passionate about anything since my accident,” he told Nancy. “I’ve not had this feeling in so long and now I do. I need to thank you because this program has done that for me.” Ben now realized that there must be something he could do – something besides wheelchair soccer – to keep that flame of passion burning.

Not long after, Ben saw a movie that rocked his world. “I saw Murderball,” he recalls. “It’s about quadriplegics who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs. I saw it and wanted to get involved with that, full contact.”

There wasn’t a quad rugby league anywhere near Ben, but he learned about a game offered through Disability Resources that hit the mark: sled hockey. It’s the fast, exciting, rough-and-tumble version of ice hockey played primarily by people with lower limb mobility impairments. The game is essentially the same as “stand-up” ice hockey, the major difference being that the players use a sled with two hockey skate blades mounted under a seat. Ben started playing and found his natural position as a goalie on the Knights, the sled hockey team sponsored by Disability Resources.

Sled hockey has given Ben a place in his world where he feels equal again. “If I fail at something it’s not because of my disability,” he says, “it’s because I wasn’t experienced enough or didn’t train enough. If I succeed it’s because of what I can do.”

Among sports for disabled athletes, sled hockey stands out because able-bodied athletes can play, and they have no advantage over disabled athletes.  This special difference has enabled Ben to share something he’s passionate about with his daughter. She’s 10, able-bodied and, like so many kids, wants to be like – and with — her dad.

Now she can be. Ben’s daughter is the goalie on the Junior Knights sled hockey team which is also sponsored by Disability Resources. She goes on the ice and plays a sport where her role model is her dad. Ben can teach her skills and share his game insights on a level field—or should I say on a flat sheet of ice!

It’s not only Ben and his daughter who connect like this. The Knights sled hockey team has two disabled dads playing along with their able-bodied kids and two disabled brothers playing with their able-bodied siblings.

“People tend to look at a disabled athlete and automatically think they can’t,” Nancy says. “But this game is hockey in every way except the people are skating while sitting. It’s physical, rough and fun.”

For Ben, playing sled hockey returned passion to his life and created a new and meaningful way to connect, father to daughter. He shoots…he scores!

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