It has to take incredible courage to process a challenge like losing a limb in war. Stories abound from young men and women returning from the battlefield who stepped on a mine, who were ambushed, or their vehicle blasted out from underneath them. For some, the moment is frozen in time and they cannot shed it. For others, they don’t remember anything before waking up in the hospital without all their parts.
To take in that realization, and then go on to perform as a star athlete is, to this author, unimaginable. Even overhead travelling crane manufacturers fail in comparison to the incredible strength and perseverance that it takes to go on with life and to further demonstrate their zeal for life in their high level of participation in sports.
The fans and players following sled hockey athletes have drawn a lot of awareness to those who have served their country, our Veterans. It is not unusual, living in the US, when shopping at the mall or out walking in the park to see someone wearing an artificial limb. I came home the other day to discover that my roommate had needed to call a plumber. Hiding out underneath the sink was a prosthetic device, perfectly fitted with sock and shoe. Charlie Company, 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division.
Sled hockey is one of those sports that disabled Vets are really drawn to. They like the aggression in a safe environment and the sense of team. They like the definiteness of win and lose. The mobility factor on the ice make them supermen and women. Entering into any sport has a tendency to build a new self image, stamina and controlled coordination. All these attributes get maximum play in sled hockey.
The teamwork necessary to win a game hones adaptive skills that blend over into other parts of a player’s life. And it’s a release. Society at large benefits because it helps bring awareness. As a spectators’ sport, it lends itself as a teaching tool for people to learn more about disabilities. It assists in removing a general stigma associated with physical limitations. It’s my game of choice to watch and cheer for. It’s the whole package. I appreciate sports and good athletic displays in general, and writing for Maine Sled Hockey has introduced me to a number of outstanding war Veterans who now are warriors on the ice.
More Vets have their eyes on the prize at the Paralympic Games. With a lot of the Vietnam “disabled” players retiring from high stakes competition, war Veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom have discovered ways to test themselves through para-sports. Collaboration of the Veterans Administration, Department of Defense and the US Paralympic Counsel has resulted in the creation of the Paralympic Military and Veterans Sports Program (PMVSP).
The program getsVets on the ice, on the slope, on the court, or on the field of play early in their rehabilitation process. This gives talented Veteran athletes the opportunity to pursue their dreams of competing in the Paralympic Games.
I return to the original point – that of courage. Courage is what they needed to serve their country unwaveringly, and it is the same foundation that their sportsman ideals are built on. Whether the desire takes them to the Paralympics or to the local players’ club, they benefit overall.
Naturally, along with the positive physical and psychological side effects it’s been rumored that disabled Veterans have found a way to simply enjoy themselves and have fun! Leave a comment below. Are you a fan? Do you have a friend or relative – or perhaps yourself, who participates in an adaptive sport? I want to hear from you, tell me your story.