My earliest memory of playing hockey was while I was a 13-year-old student at Sunny View Public School. My mom was afraid I would get hurt easily because of my brittle bones. I respected her concerns, and I understood the risks involved. However it did not kill my desire to play. Most of the people in my circle of friends did not object to me playing. I attempted other sports, like T-ball (a variation on baseball), volleyball and soccer. But the only sport I truly excelled at was hockey.
One of my favourite moments in wheelchair hockey came during my graduating year in 1988, when my team and I won the school’s league championship. It validated for me that I was accepted by my hockey peers, and could blend in well in the sport. The championship win boosted my confidence in staying active in the sport.
A year before I graduated from Sunny View, I joined the Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association. They met 1-2 times a week at the old Bloorview building. It was fun joining some of my schoolmates in this league, and also getting to meet other players from throughout Toronto, and sometimes from other parts of Ontario as well.
During the 2004-05 season, I wanted to give back to the league by coaching in their junior division. The average ages of the players in this league ranged between the ages of 10 to 17. When I was invited by the coordinator to coach a team, I took on the challenge despite the fact I had no previous coaching experience. The kids and I clicked immediately, and they always expressed appreciation and gratitude every time my assistant coach and I encouraged them to shoot the ball high and not give up.
One player in particular told me years later that my coaching helped his game and gave him the confidence to advance into the post-teen level. His name is Brandon, and he continues to play as a defenseman in the Toronto Power Wheelchair Hockey League.
Five years ago, in 2008, I left the CEWHA to join the TPWHL. All the seasons I played in this league were good. The one I cherish most was the year my second team came back from personal losses to win the 2010-11 championship. Perhaps it was settling into adulthood that made it work while still possessing the spirit of childhood. Whatever it was, it was a solid foundation that carried us through our three seasons together. The mutual respect and camaraderie that existed between us certainly helped.
Throughout my time playing wheelchair hockey, I was either a forward or a defenseman. Nothing gave me a greater thrill than being able to prevent the opposing team from scoring. Scoring the occasional goal felt even better. There was even a game I recall where I played as a defense, forward and goalie! We won that game!
One of the major skills I developed as a player was being a team player. Being a team player doesn’t just involve showing up on time and playing alongside your teammates. More importantly, it involves being an active listener and observer. These skills I have transferred on to other areas of my life, including places of employment.
My years in hockey also improved and expanded my social life. Hockey to me isn’t just about playing the game. It’s also about having fun and breaking out of the isolation many people with disabilities experience.
I’ve played with many people, at Sunny View, the CEWHA and later in the TPWHL. Some are still active in the sport, and some are not. I value all the personal and professional relationships that have resulted from my participation in wheelchair hockey, past and present.
Whether I am playing hockey or taking part in some other recreational activity, I hope I will always stay connected to the community born out of my years playing and coaching wheelchair power hockey.