Consider this simple truth: CHD could not do all that we do without the selfless help of volunteers. They give the gift of themselves through many of our programs – programs that help people of all ages, in all walks of life, and facing a wide array of challenges. I’d like to share with you the story of Aaron Morrison, a volunteer with a sled hockey team sponsored by CHD.
Aaron didn’t follow the traditional route most kids take to ice hockey. He started when he was 39 years old. “I used to be a professional wrestler,” he explained. “I wanted to help my brother’s kids get into sports and was walking through the sporting goods store with my nephews. They went straight for the hockey equipment, so I set them up. I had never played hockey myself so I decided to take the opportunity to learn.”
Aaron bought some hockey gear and joined an adult learn-to-play program in Holyoke. He and some friends started renting the ice for pick-up games. When they rented the ice at Amelia Park in Westfield, they got asked to join a league. “We did join,” Aaron recalled, “and we got our butts handed to us every game! It was still fun. That’s where I met Tim Glagow, who coaches sled hockey. One day he sent me a text inviting me to be part of the sled hockey program.”
Aaron decided to give it a try. Right away he liked the people and the people liked him. It didn’t take long for him to realize that volunteering to help out with sled hockey was the right decision. He started by pushing players who were more limited in their abilities. He’d never done anything like that before and said it’s tough, but the rewards make it all worthwhile.
“Sled hockey is for people who have different abilities than we do,” Aaron explains. “They get into a sled that has skate blades on the bottom. Their feet are strapped down and their torso is strapped down. They have two sticks, each with a set of picks that are bolted to one end and angled so the players can use them to kind of row themselves along the ice. The other end is the hockey stick blade for passing and shooting the puck.”
Aaron sounds rather matter-of-fact describing what he does, but he gets excited when he tells you about what it means to the people he’s helping. “My job as pusher is to move players who don’t have the ability to move themselves down the ice. I keep them in the game. One time I was pushing a player, Jeff Granger, and he went in for a goal. I saw the look on his face when he scored and it was just amazing. Playing sled hockey really changes the day for the players and when they get a goal…like I said, amazing.”
Like most organized sports, sled hockey has leagues and tournaments. In his first year as a volunteer, Aaron was at a tournament in Connecticut. “We had both the teams, adult and youth, participating in the New England Invitational Sled Hockey Tournament,” Aaron recalls. “I played every minute of every game. There were three players on our team that needed to be pushed and one pusher—me—so I just stayed on the ice. When one player was coming off I’d push them toward the bench as another volunteer was pushing the other player into the game. Physically I’m always trying to push myself, so there’s something appropriate about me being the pusher for other people. And I really enjoy pushing kids especially, because they’re so excited about being in the game. They’re competitive but they still have that sense of wonderment about being on a team and playing in a game. If I can help them get a goal, it’s a great feeling for both of us.”
In addition to being a pusher on the ice, Aaron serves is an assistant coach under head coach Tim Glagow. Aaron’s commitment to his team is unmistakable. He is there for the sled hockey players and families two days a week for eight months of the year, plus tournaments and fundraisers. He travels with the team and always pays his own way. He gives 100% to the team. If you’re the kind of person who likes proof, take a look at his arm. It has permanent evidence of his commitment. “I told the kids that first year if they worked hard and won the tournament, I’d get a tattoo to commemorate the championship. They worked hard and they won the tournament, so I kept my promise.”
Aaron Morrison is a man who gives of himself so others can enjoy life. Ask him about volunteering and he’ll explain why you should volunteer, too. “It will make you feel better about yourself. Even if you have a lousy day at work, when you get on the ice and work with the kids, anything bad goes away. I see some of the kids who have to get help to get in and out of their sled, but then they get on the ice and the disability is gone and they’re like all the other players. Sled hockey is an adaptive sport, not a disabled sport. The people who play have hurdles to overcome. They have to do the same things the rest of us do, they just have to go about it a different way. And they get it done. Maybe they had a bad accident and some of the physical recovery just is not going to happen. But the mental recovery, that can happen. I’ve seen it happen and that is one of the things that’s great about our sport. It’s inspiring.”
It’s worth noting that CHD isn’t the only organization that thinks so highly of Aaron Morrison. The Springfield Falcons Hockey Club recognized Aaron as a “Game Changer” because of his volunteer support for the game of sled hockey and for the players and families that enjoy it so much.
I enthusiastically join Aaron Morrison in encouraging each of you to volunteer. Add your talents, insights and experience to improve life for children, for people with developmental disabilities, for the victims of violence or dread disease, for anyone who could use the kind of help that only comes from the heart of someone who volunteers.
If you are interested in volunteering in CHD’s Disability Resources Sled Hockey Program please contact Jessica Levine, Program Director Phone (413) 788-9695, Email JLevine@chd.org.