For 75 years, Easter Seals Newfoundland and Labrador (ESNL) has helped children with disabilities live full and active lives. Launched in early 2003 as a part of its recreation therapy program, ESNL has given these children the opportunity to take the ice through its popular sledge hockey program.
“People with physical disabilities often live sedentary lifestyles leading to secondary health concerns such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes,” said Mark Lane, executive director and chief executive officer of ESNL. “ESNL has designed physical fitness and sports programs to introduce youth to an active lifestyle. Part of our recreational programming is our sledge hockey program.”
On February 11, 2013, ESNL was presented with a $25,000 grant from RBC Play Hockey, one of 20 handed out this year. The funds will help ESNL provide additional training for coaches, new equipment and more ice time for players.
RBC Play Hockey is one of the largest corporately-funded hockey programs that supports grassroots hockey in communities across North America. To date, RBC has provided more than $1.5 million in grants to over 120 hockey programs, ranging from learn-to-skate, ball hockey and equipment sharing programs to improving access to ice, hockey clinic initiatives and lowering registration costs.
“With good instruction and the proper equipment, sledge hockey can enrich the lives of youth with disabilities by increasing their physical fitness, socialization, confidence and independence,” noted Lane. “Sledge hockey also helps youth with physical disabilities better cope with everyday challenges while increasing spatial perception, hand-eye coordination and balance. It also teaches advanced planning, problem-solving and goal-setting skills.”
Since 2003, ESNL has successfully operated its sledge hockey program, running each year from October through May. The program includes weekly Saturday one-hour skate sessions at Mile One Centre, home of the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps, the top affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets, and formal coaching for 30-plus children per session. ESNL also provides a sledge equipment loan service.
“No child is turned away from our programs and services,” added Lane. “With this RBC grant, we can fund ice time, and families are saved the costly price of registration. In addition, the purchase of newly-developed lightweight sledges, helmets and sticks will replace existing worn equipment that requires constant repairs. Additional sledge specific coach training would be facilitated by the Canadian Coaches Association’s National Coach Certification Program.”
ESNL has helped develop many sledge hockey players. A shining example is 14-year-old Liam Hickey, who was born without a femur in his right leg. As a youngster, Liam felt frustrated learning to skate, turning to ESNL with hope the organization could meet his needs.
“Liam tried sledge hockey, and it gave him a sense of freedom he had never experienced before,” Lane said. “He refused to let his disability interfere with his goals and has gone on to play several national tournaments.”
A four-year member of the Avalon Sled Dogs, Liam was invited by Hockey Canada to participate in Canada’s National Sledge Development Team training camp this past February, held at the training facility of the Montreal Canadiens, which happens to be the favourite team of Liam and his father. Canada’s National Sledge Development Team is the feeder system for Canada’s National Sledge Team.
“Like most kids, I had always dreamed of being in the NHL. Nowadays, my hockey dreams are all about sledge, mainly to play for Team Canada in the Paralympics,” explained Hickey. “All of my personal success with sledge hockey would not have been possible without the Easter Seals sledge hockey program.”
Liam believes the RBC Play Hockey grant will further help ESNL provide children with disabilities the opportunity to play hockey and chase their Paralympic dreams, just like him.
“Together we can help realize the athletic goals of young people with disabilities,” added Lane.