SMILES EQUAL SUCCESS FOR NORWAY’S NATIONAL SLEDGE HOCKEY TEAM
Win or lose, on or off the ice, Stig Tore Svee and Morten Vaernes always keep smiling.
The positivity of the Norweigan players paid off at the 2011 World Sledge Hockey Challenge, where despite three losses going into the final day, they came out of the tournament with medals around their necks.
That’s also perhaps why Svee and Vaernes have no problem laughing at each other, and at themselves, despite both being involved in separate devastating accidents during the late 90s that left their backs broken and lives forever changed.
“I broke my back on a snowboard, doing a back flip, and came halfway through it,” Vaernes, an Oslo native, said of that fateful 1999 run down a Norweigan mountainside.
“Fifty per cent!” Svee chimed in, teasing his teammate.
“I walked to the window and sat down, and it was a little too low for me, so I lost my balance and fell out the window,” he said of his own accident while attending a 1997 New Year’s Eve party in his hometown of Trondheim. “I also took my back flip halfway around.
“Unintentionally,” Vaernes said, giving it right back to his buddy.
After their accidents, both found their way straight from the hospital bed to the hockey rink, and they’ve been hooked on sledge ever since.
“I played hockey before, so it was natural for me to continue,” defenceman Svee said, then with a chuckle describing how he helped introduce Vaernes to the sport. “I had to drag him out of bed.”
“Then, but not now!” forward Vaernas said of what quickly became his favourite activity, much because of its incredible speed and intensity. “It’s action!”
“It’s fun, it’s tough, and it’s ice and boards and pucks,” Svee elaborated. “It’s perfect.”
His team’s record at this year’s World Sledge Hockey Challenge was far from perfect, with the Norwegians finishing with a 2-3 mark – both wins coming against Japan, in the preliminary round and bronze medal game.
“World champions next year!” Vaernas declared of the sixth IPC Sledge Hockey World Championship, which will happen on home ice for Norway next year.
“You never know,” Svee said. “We (were) in all the finals at world championships and the Paralympics from 1992 until last year in Vancouver, so I think we have a chance. We have to think that.”
It’s that type of attitude that has helped both players overcome the challenges associated with their injuries, and become alternate captains on Norway’s national sledge hockey team.
“Personally, I took it as a challenge, I just had to go on,” 48-year-old Svee said of how he reacted to his disability.
“Take it as it comes,” 30-year-old Vaernes agreed. “It makes everything much easier.”
With only upwards of 40 sledge players to choose from in Norway, let alone for the national squad, Svee, Vaernes and their teammates know how to roll with the punches and still come out strong.
“I think we just have to do the things we do,” Svee said of how Norway may be able to turn bronze into gold at future sledge events. With a typical laugh, Svee recognizes he’s being cliché, but also sees the truth in how important it is to “stay positive.”
“You can do anything,” he said of having the right outlook on success in sledge, and in life.
“Do it because you think it’s fun,” Vaernes said, with a smile of course. “That’s the most important thing.”