Children’s Hospital pediatric rehabilitation patient, David Moreno, is learning a new sport – and in a new way. Recently paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident, the athletic 17-year-old from Tulare isn’t letting that stop him from participating in the Hospital’s new adaptive sled hockey activity.
“It’s pretty easy,” said David, as he demonstrated propelling the sled forward and passing the puck. “Stopping can be hard, though,” he continued, showing how the tips of the two shortened hockey sticks players use to move the sled need to be applied to the ice just right.
David is one of about 30 boys and girls, along with numerous volunteers, who have eagerly turned out for the Hospital’s newest adaptive sports clinic. That’s because not long after pediatric surgeon Dr. Adam Gorra joined Children’s Hospital, he got a great idea.
“Ice hockey is a technically challenging sport that requires dedication and perseverance,” said Dr. Gorra, an East Coast native who has played the game since he was 3. “When I learned about the Hospital’s adaptive sports program, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to bring one of my passions to the Central Valley and create a unique winter experience for our disabled athletes. There is something magical about gliding across the ice, whether you are on skates or a sled.”
After borrowing sled hockey equipment from USA Hockey, enlisting volunteers and arranging to rent the new temporary ice rink at Fulton Mall in downtown Fresno, Dr. Gorra’s idea soon became reality.
“My grandson Logan’s smile gets bigger at each event!” said Don Britton of Fresno when the program’s adaptive sled hockey clinic launched the evening of Dec. 3. “He loves this.” Nine-year-old Logan Stewart, who has cerebral palsy, has also attended the program’s water skiing activity.
Even able-bodied individuals enjoy sled hockey. Members of the Fresno Junior Monsters 16 and under midget team took part that same night as guest instructors. “This has been humbling for the Monsters,” said Tara Lindlahr of Fresno, whose 15-year-old son, Boston, is on the team. “These boys have been playing for years, it’s second nature. Teaching and learning the adaptive part is a new experience for them.”
Liam Wohner, 13, of Fresno also likes volunteering. Born prematurely, he spent the first three months of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s. “I know how it feels if you can’t do something, so if I can help any of these kids I’m happy to do that,” said Liam.
A sport for all to enjoy
Sled hockey is very similar to “stand-up hockey” in terms of concept and rules. The main difference is instead of standing up to skate, participants sit on their skates using the sled as an adaptive device. They also use the shortened hockey sticks that have a blade on one end and a pick (similar to the end of a figure skate) on the other, enabling them to push across the ice like in cross country skiing.
“Sled hockey requires a lot of upper-body strength,” said Dr. Gorra. “These young people rely on their upper bodies in everything they do. With sled hockey they can have lots of fun, be a part of a team and get a great workout!”
In addition, having legs offers no advantage when playing sled hockey. “In fact, double amputees are often the quickest athletes in sled hockey,” said Dr. Gorra. “So the able-bodied and disabled can play together.”
The benefit of adaptive sports
Adaptive sports provide people with disabilities an opportunity to improve their health as well as boost their confidence and independence. The Hospital’s adaptive sports program for youth up to age 21 has been expanding rapidly since its inception about a year and a half ago. The only one of its kind in the region, the program offers a variety of free recreational and athletic experiences ranging from water skiing and rock climbing to golf and tennis – and now sled hockey. Children’s sled hockey activity is the first in the country to be affiliated with a children’s hospital.
“Sled hockey and Dr. Gorra’s efforts are a tremendous addition to our adaptive sports program because of the high level of competitive options (beginner to Paralympian), wide age range of participants, and local community support,” said Dr. Jennifer Crocker, medical director, Children’s Hospital pediatric rehabilitation center, who leads the adaptive sports program. “Sled hockey provides that ‘contact’ some athletes crave but also helps develop coordination, strength, speed and agility in a new way to challenge all ages.”
“Adaptive sports are very therapeutic and adding a team sport enhances that therapeutic effect because it creates very powerful bonds between athletes,” added Dr. Gorra. “Many of our athletes played on teams before they were injured. This gives them a chance to be a member of a team again.”
David can relate. Prior to the car accident he enjoyed playing football and soccer as well as running. Currently he is one of the soccer team coaches at his high school and looks forward to participating on Children’s new sled hockey team.
Children’s team will compete for the first time on Dec. 29 in Riverside, Calif., against a team from Riverside and another from Phoenix, Ariz. In addition to Fulton Mall, Dr. Gorra will host weekly sled hockey practices in January at Selland Arena in Fresno.
David’s parents, Ernie and Isabel Moreno, agree the adaptive sports program is positively affecting their son. “David’s been learning a lot and making new friends,” said Ernie, adding that David also attended the program’s rock climbing activity. “We want to show him that although he’s paralyzed he can do anything, that he’s unstoppable!”
How you can help
Children’s Hospital Adaptive Sports Program depends upon volunteers, donations and sponsorships. It has expanded from a staff-driven, summer clinic to a formal Hospital program that offers clinics year-round. Wells Fargo contributed $75,000 to launch the effort. The pediatric rehabilitation center’s Adventure Mobile van, funded by a nearly $94,000 donation from Chukchansi Gold Resort and Casino and the County of Madera, helps transport participants to athletic events.
Sled hockey is an expensive sport. Equipping one player costs between $850 and $1,000; renting a rink costs between $250 and $350 per hour. Children’s is seeking a major corporate sponsor to support the skating and sled hockey activity.
“We would like to develop this team so that we can compete throughout the region, state and eventually nationally,” said Dr. Adam Gorra, who leads the sled hockey activity. “There is a phenomenal network of sled hockey enthusiasts across the country and they have heard about the new program in the Central Valley. The sled hockey community sees this as an opportunity to boost the sport on the West Coast. Our central location will provide an opportunity for teams throughout California to visit Fresno for sled hockey contests.”
Given our experienced medical staff and dedicated volunteers, the program is in a unique position to make sled hockey a successful venture for the kids.
For more information on the program and/or sled hockey clinics, contact Children’s Hospital Adaptive Sports Program at (559) 353-6130, firstname.lastname@example.org or online. To donate funds, equipment or expertise to the program, contact Children’s Hospital Foundation at (559) 353-7100.