Special Needs Living Feb 2021 Issue

Page 12

no legs needed By Ashley Caveda

A New Athlete’s Intro to


The first time I was on the ice, I could still walk. I was 6 years old and though I tried gliding my skates over the surface of the frozen water, they moved only in stutter stops. My friend Allison sailed past me and waved, but I couldn’t communicate that same easy motion to my own feet. Now, I am 35 years old — 29 years into a spinal cord injury after a car accident left me paralyzed as a child. My injury is high and my balance is negligible. Most of the time, I cheat by counterbalancing with my head if I have to reach for something.

diehard Chicago Blackhawk fans and, by blood, I suppose I was, too. But I never actually touched the ice again until this past summer.

Apart from a brief tenure as a wheelchair soccer player when I was 12 and occasionally arm-wrestling the boys in my seventh-grade drama class, I never really took to sports. For the past couple of years, however, I’ve participated in various sports clinics offered through the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana (RHI). With subsidized costs and often world-class athletes and coaches to show us the ropes, I felt comfortable trying new things. I tried scuba diving, boccia ball, hand-cycling, archery, bowling, adaptive sailing, table tennis, fencing, and, most recently, sled hockey.

An enthusiastic man — Coach Duane Weber — introduced himself when I arrived and assured me it was okay that I had no previous experience. Looking around the Indy Fuel Tank, I saw two little girls — 10, maybe 12 years old — playing sled hockey. They were dynamos in the rink, racing around, light on the ice, their legs strapped tight in their sleds. They each held a stick in their right hand and another in their left hand; the curved part meant for hitting the puck was pointed toward the ceiling rather than touching the ice. The bottom ends of their sticks had four spikes. The girls thrust both sticks forward, spikes down, digging them into the ice and propelling their bodies on the skated sleds forward, over and over, faster than seemed possible. When one came upon a puck, she flipped the stick, hit the puck underneath her own sled, passing it to the stick in her other hand, and then she slammed it into the net. I was in awe of the skill contained in their tiny bodies. I knew there was no chance I would be able to keep up.

In his youth, my father, a native of Cuba, was a semi-pro hockey player — the Ice Cuban, as his friends called him. Later, he took up coaching my older, able-bodied brother’s hockey team. They were

Getting fitted for my own gear was, in a word, comical. Adaptive hockey volunteers pulled too-large chest and shoulder padding over my head and strapped on too-small elbow pads and helped

12 Special Needs Living • February 2021