Playing sports when you have cerebral palsy is far from impossible. I play power wheelchair competitive hockey, and I enjoy playing it more than I thought I would. I’m probably not your typical sports person: I cheer on the home teams, but I don’t watch sports or know the names of the professional players. However, when it comes to competition and belonging to a team, I am definitely in the zone.
A few years ago I heard about a local sports expo for people with disabilities. I decided to see what it had to offer. Going there was one of the smartest decisions that I ever made, because I saw my first powerchair hockey game. I didn’t know much about hockey at the time, but I was impressed watching the players race around the gym in various wheelchairs and with various degrees of disabilities. I talked to some players and coaches about how the team works, and learned that the team played near my house, so getting to games wouldn’t be a problem.
Power wheelchair hockey uses many professional NHL rules, with some adaptations. For example, we use a whiffle ball instead of a hockey puck. We play three fifteen minute periods with five players on each side: one goalie, and one defensive and three offensive players. Players are penalized for dangerous driving in wheelchairs and for collisions. All the players use motorized (power) wheelchairs, but there aren’t any age, gender or race requirements to be a team member.
Players who are able to drive their motorized wheelchair with one hand and use the hockey stick with the other. Those who can’t hold a hockey stick and drive (much like myself) can fasten their hockey stick to their wheelchair, and play by moving their wheelchair only. No matter what kind of power wheelchair you use, there is always a way to modify it to play hockey.
The hockey team that I play for, Philadelphia PowerPlay, was founded by Patrick Hilferty in 2004. It started with only a few players, now there are 30 or more. Our regular season is September to June, and in the summer we have a tournament team that travels to play in the annual powerchair hockey tournament.
I play goalie and defense. With cerebral palsy, controlling my muscles at a rapid speed is definitely a workout and uses a lot of energy. After a game, I sometimes feel worn out, but in a good way, like after a good exercise session. I like the sense of competition, and the even playing field. We aren’t people who have disabilities: we are hockey players who want to win for the two hours every other week!
Even more so, we’re friends who turned into family. I’m so happy that I went to that sports expo years ago, because I have met so many good people and learned so much. I even traveled to Canada to play in a tournament, something that otherwise never would have happened.
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