CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) – With only one sled hockey team in Iowa, a group based out of Cedar Rapids is working on starting one locally.
Sled Hockey allows people with disabilities to use a sled like chair and hockey sticks to move around the ice. It’s a way for people who may have thought they would never have a chance to play hockey, to get in the game.
Hockey Enthusiast Michael Swanson knows that feeling well. He grew up in a family of ice hockey players. He was diagnosed with cancer as a child leaving him with a leg deformity.
“It was really difficult to watch my family playing and having a good time when there I was stuck on the sidelines,” Swanson said.
About three years ago, his leg was amputated and he had the chance to get into adaptive sports. He was invited to the Quad Cities to try out sled hockey.
“The first time I went out on the ice I was hooked. It was just something that I absolutely wanted to do,” he said.
With the Quad Cities being 90 minutes away, he came up with the idea to bring the sport home. Swanson applied for grants from USA Hockey and received five free sleds toward the program.
“I decided let’s try and bring this here to Cedar Rapids because this is going to be a really fun opportunity for a lot of people,” Swanson said. “It’s a really great sport, it’s a great activity, it’s a great way to meet people, and the plan is Sport Ability wants to start out initially with an all-inclusive ice time.”
That inclusivity will allow anyone with any kind of disability to take part in the sport, including Swanson’s 9-year-old daughter Liz. She’s legally blind and can only see 3 feet in front of her, but with the high contrast of the ice and black pucks she has no trouble.
“We never thought she’d ever play sports because she’s terrified of anything that comes at her, any balls that bounce or anything she is afraid of,” Liz’s mom Sheryl Swanson said. “It’s awesome to see the smile on her face because they can see their friends going to play and then they have to sit on the sidelines, and they don’t get to participate. So, that’s the best part, to see them smile and know they’re having so much fun.”
Swanson said that’s what makes the sport so meaningful to him.
“There’s something really magical about seeing someone go from a chair, sitting onto a sled, and the first time they push them off from the ice, it’s beautiful, its floating, it’s unbelievable, and to see the smiles on people’s faces when they’re out on the ice and playing it’s great,” Swanson said.
He hopes to have the program running by October. It won’t be competitive at first, but after other cities get teams and more people join he hopes to start playing scheduled games. Swanson and other hockey enthusiasts will be participating in a demo at Mystique Ice center in Dubuque at 11:30 a.m. on March 19.