Meet The Wickenheisers.
An all-women para ice hockey team made of a group of amazing para athletes who came together to give sledge hockey a go. We had a chance to watch them play while they participated in the Cruisers Sports 2018 Cruisers Cup para ice hockey tournament held in Brampton, Ontario. We also got to chat with a couple of the team's players to hear what they thought about trying para ice hockey. In particular, players Christina Swett and Ashlie Drake helped us learn more about the team's back story and shared their take and how they benefitted from playing para ice hockey as members of the Wickenheisers hockey team.
SWSCD: When and how did you start playing together as a team?
Christina & Ashlie:
Last year (2017) a group of women with disabilities who already play other para sports, decided we wanted to give para hockey a go. So we entered the Cruisers Cup tournament and just had a lot of fun. As people with disabilities (and especially as women), our opportunities to play, effectively, “pick up”, can be pretty limited so it made our playing in the tournament together that much more enjoyable. A lot of credit is owed to Julia Hanes who inspired all of us to come together and play as a team. She is a multi-parasport athlete who has found success in a number of different sports. She's also a huge advocate for multisport athletes, especially people with disabilities. The Cruisers Cup tournament had opened up a new recreational division and Julia thought that there were a bunch of current (para) athletes who could do it and decided to gently (and not so gently) encouraged everyone to give playing in the tournament a go. This year's (2018) team had more than half of the 2017 team back for the chance to play again.
SWSCD: Who plays on the team and how did you all come together?
Christina & Ashlie:
Julia knew pretty much everyone who plays on the team through the various sports she plays. The parasport community is pretty small, and for me, it didn't take much pushing to see it would be a fun weekend regardless of our skill becausee of who was going to be involved with the team. Some of us literally met in the locker room that first night...just before we were `explained the concept of "offside" to the non-hockey folks!
Ashlie added that participating on the Wickenheisers team for her definitely is about taking a weekend to learn a new sport and have some fun with friends.
SWSCD: What do you love about playing as a team in the Cruisers Cup tournament: What do you love about the game of hockey?
Christina & Ashlie:
For Ashlie, the team has allowed a group of women with varying backgrounds to come together and create new friendships and influence players' outlooks on life. For her, hockey is an amazing game that brings people of all abilities together to play a fun sport.
Christina's thoughts echoed in a lot of ways the feelings that Ashlie expressed. I love the chance to play "pick up". As a person, especially as a woman with a disability, it's something I've missed over the past few years. The opportunity to throw on a jersey and play around with some friends is underrated sometimes. We see this tournament as a chance to replicate that kind of scenario. I don't know a lot about hockey, but I did enjoy some of the strategy. Especially as a defensive team, clearing the puck out of our zone and having a chance to regroup was a good thing for us (and sometimes became our primary goal for the game!)
SWSCD: What would you say to other able-bodied and physically challenged women about trying para hockey? Did you have any any hesitations or reservations about trying the game? How did you encourage others to play on your team?
Christina & Ashlie:
For Christina, it's always worth a shot to try. I love that by having the chance to play in this tournament that I get to develop a little bit of skill without having to commit to a whole season. I was definitely hesitant because I wastn't sure how my body would feel about being strapped in the legs-out kind of position, but sometimes it's worth being a little uncomfortable for that much fun! I actually did have to do some convincing with one player, but by the end of the weekend she was SO EXCITED to keep playing. Most of the encouragement required comes in mainly emphasizing the positives of the game. Also, with the amazing support of Ken Hall and the Cruisers along with a few female competitive sledge athletes, we were able to provide all the equipment needed to outfit brand new players. It was certainly also important to be clear about our goals of playing - to have fun and to try a new sport. There's never any judgement or negativity. We're playing to have some fun and get some exercise plain and simple.
For Ashlie, she felt that regardless of your physical ability, skill level or background in sports, para ice hockey is a sport anyone should go out and try because you will definitely have an amazing experience.
SWSCD: What would you say to parents who have daughters who might have some type of physical disability and might be afraid that their daughter will get hurt if they play a sport like para hockey?
Christina & Ashlie:
Ashlie felt strongly that you can't hold anyone back from trying something like para hockey because you're scared for them. By providing your daughter with a chance to try para hockey, you could help them find the outlet they need to change their life in a positive way as well as create opportunities to try other sports.
For Christina, she felt that it's so important to get beyond your own fears as a parent and let your daughter try it anyway. She believes the risk of a minor injury are so much lower when compared to the risks from being inactive. More importantly, a quality sport experience can give you so much, on and off the field/court/ice. From physical benefits that translate into day-to-day life benefits to mental benefits that include increased confidence, self-esteem, camaraderie and exposure to mentorship. It's irreplaceable and worth a few bumps and bruises along the way.
SWSCD: Any other thoughts you would want to share about having the chance to play recreational para ice hockey as part of the Wickenheiser hockey team and through the Cruisers Cup tournament?
I would definitely send a huge thank you to the people who help make this happen. The Cruisers Cup is an enormous tournament and it says a lot about the organizing commmittee as well as the more serious-minded players who loaned us their equipment that they're willing to go out of their way to welcome a bunch of women into their community like they have - especially knowing that most of us won't play again until the next year's tournament. I think it's a huge testament to their ability to see the big picture and the intagible benefits of participation for everyone.
SWSCD: How does it make you feel to have the team named after such a super successful national hockey player like Hayley Wickenheiser?
I think it's amazing to have such a strong role model like Hayley Wickenheiser for girls and women in sport. It's also a great chance for us to celebrate her by naming our team after her. To those of us on the team, it's kind of cool. We actually connected with her last year and linked her up with some sledges to take to India on one of her projects so that all the girls she met could play. A pretty neat connection really.
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