AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Saturday, Team USA captured the gold medal over Russia in sled hockey at the Paralympic Games in Sochi. Right here in Central Texas, the Austin Blades are playing sled hockey as well.
In North Austin, the Austin Blades practice once a week, trying to master the game of sled hockey.
“Sled hockey is basically the same thing as stand up hockey, except, instead of having skates, we get a sled to sit in,” Frank Dorval said. “We have two sticks with metal tips on the end to propel ourselves and to handle the puck. And after that, it’s pretty much the same thing.”
The paths the Austin Blades took to sled hockey are as varied as the team itself. Frank Dorval was born with ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that, in Dorval’s case, led to a fusing of his spine.
“I was ok up until about my mid-30s, and then it really kicked in,” Dorval said. “And from there, it started to degrade really fast.”
The disease robbed Dorval of his ability to walk, forcing him into a wheelchair. But once he discovered sled hockey, he wouldn’t stay in one for long.
“It took me years to work myself out of my motorized wheelchair,” Dorval said. “I’ll never go back if I don’t have to. Oh yeah, definitely,” Dorval said when asked if sled hockey had made his life better.
Dave Wear found himself in a wheelchair when he was hit by a drunk driver in 1976 in his hometown of Lampasas.
“I thought my life was gonna be over with,” Wear said. “It’s kind of a miracle that I’m still living. At one time, I thought I was actually in a wheelchair longer than I was walking. That kinda hit me kinda heavy. But you got your arms, your locomotion. I can still see all the things I wanna do, but it was just from a different angle.”
Regardless of whatever diseases or disabilities any of these sled hockey players have, they all have one thing in common: Whenever they’re on the ice, they forget about what brought them here in the first place.
“It’s nice to be out here and just forget about everything, your health issues, family issues, work issues, whatever,” Dorval said. “You gotta concentrate.”
“Playing wheelchair sports, I forget all that,” Wear said. “All you’re trying to figure out is how to breathe right, how to get down to help your teammates, push outside your envelope.”
An escape that makes their reality better.