We were joined by our Positive Pathways Sports and Outdoors Navigator, Dennis, Blesma’s Outreach Officer for Northern Ireland, Fiona, and some willing Veterans to try out the unique sport.
Inline sledge hockey is a dry land wheeled version of para ice hockey, and the sport started here in 2016. Stephen Lynch, the CEO of Powered By Sport, talked us through the initiative.
“Sledge hockey became very personal to us after one of our directors was in a car accident and now uses a wheelchair. We wanted to develop the sport on wheels, not on ice, so we got a Team Ireland Sledge Hockey up and running.
“We had 7 groups a week participating, and the only other place we’ve seen hockey on wheels is in France, no one else plays it as a sport. The French team came to visit us in 2016, and we learned that their equipment had subtle tweaks. Their hockey sticks had wheels on the end rather than crutch ends, their chairs were set up differently and were a lot faster. I thought, if something that small can make a difference, what else can we do to improve our equipment?”
The sledges can be customised for each user, and Stephen is now working with a Canadian company to source better equipment for the sport. “During lockdown I reached out to a couple in Canada who specialise in the ice version. They sent me over a sledge and we tested it out over Zoom. It was good, but it wasn’t perfect. Two weeks later they sent me another, and it’s even better - the control of the puck, the turning capacity, the difference is unbelievable.”
“There’s a huge interest in this. The chairs cost around £500, and compared to the cost of a basketball wheelchair, which can be up to £3,000, inline sledge hockey is actually much more accessible,” Stephen told us.
After being shown how to use the sledges, we were able to have a go ourselves, but we all recognised the most important thing about the sport is the social aspect - where everyone is welcome to join in.
If you’re interested in getting involved with sledge hockey, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.