Skating for People with Physical Disabilities

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Picture of sled hockey participant, Bagina, celbrating a winning goal. Picture taken from STAR skaters.org.
Men and women with physical disabilities are able to still enjoy hockey. The sled hockey program in Memorial City, Houston, welcomes men and women who are physically handicapped and still wanting to play for fun, or competitively.

Sled hockey was invented in Stockholm, Sweden in the early 1960s for disabled hockey players who, despite their disabilities, were determined to keep playing. Now, almost 50 years later, Sled hockey has made its way here, to Houston by STAR skater program founder, Jim O’Neil. The acronym “STAR” stands for “skating for therapy and recreation.” After seeing a show in 2008 about a program that assisted the blind and handicapped on the ice, Jim was inspired to bring this type of program to his community.

“I’ve been skating ever since I was a little kid. I’ve been ‘refing’ for more than 15 years, ‘refing’ ice hockey, and it’s just been such a great social networking… It helps keep you in shape. And I thought, ‘why shouldn’t Houston have a program like this and people who aren’t abled bodied should have the same should have the same opportunity as abled bodied people?’”

Jim’s original plan was to organize occasional events at a rink for kids and adults with disabilities. But, as Jim says, “There’s no stopping the power of a good idea,” because the program immediately began to grow. Soon, people were coming to Jim with ideas to expand the program. Sled hockey being one.

“And my first question was ‘What’s sled hockey?’ I had no idea, I had never even heard of it, even though I had been involved in hockey my whole life. Sled hockey, for those like me, who are unaware, is sitting down in a sled playing hockey with two sticks instead of one, and they’re shorter.”

There’s a standard blade at one end of the stick, used to hit the puck, and a pick on the other.

“And you reach forward and pick the ice and that’s how you move.”

There is also a branch of STAR skaters in Sugarland, called skate therapy. This program focuses on people with mental as well as physical disabilities.