From the Rink to the Pool

Jon at the US Warrior Games

Jon at the US Warrior Games

Peterborough Phantoms player Jon Le Galloudec swapped his sledge for swimming trunks a couple of weeks ago when he joined more than 100 other UK Armed Forces personnel at the first ever Invictus Games.

Wounded in Iraq 7 years ago when he was shot in the spine by a sniper, Jon was told by doctors that he wouldn’t walk again. Not willing to accept that as an option, he pushed himself every day, until he was defying expectations.

It was at Stoke Mandeville that I was told I would never walk again, however, me being me,  I stubbornly ignored them, and two months after I was shot I took my first wobbly steps. The first time I walked I was in tears, my mum was in tears, even the nurses were in tears – I just didn’t think it would ever happen for me.  I was told that I would always be in a wheelchair so walking out of the hospital, three months later, and proving them wrong, was one of the best days of my life.

Jon with his Invictus medals

Jon with his Invictus medals

Today, with the help of pioneering leg splints from a company called Ottobock, he is not only walking, but has taken up running again.  The splints, which are funded by Help for Heroes, work by storing energy in the carbon fibre frame. This energy is then returned as the user steps, acting like a spring to support the movement.

Last month, Jon added another achievement to his ever-growing list – competing in the first ever Invictus Games in London. The brainchild of HRH Prince Harry, the Games were modelled on the US Warrior Games after he’d visited them in Colorado in 2013.  Bringing wounded, injured and sick service personnel together in a huge sporting event, it was the type of challenge that Jon thrives on.  Having already won a bronze medal at the Warrior Games representing the British Armed Forces team, he started training for the selection trials.

Unfortunately, the lingering issues related to his disability meant that Jon was in a lot of pain during his training, including developing a chest infection that left him – literally – falling onto Prince Harry’s lap at one of the pre-Invictus events.  Setting him back with his training, Jon was concerned that he hadn’t made the team, but in mid-August the final 130-strong British Armed Forces Team was announced, and he was thrilled to be included in that number.

Taking part in 4 swimming races, Jon knew it was going to be hard to win, but that wasn’t the main reason for wanting to take part.

It may not have been about the winning for Jon, but when he stood on the podium to receive the first of his two bronze medals, it was still a pretty amazing moment. On top of that, and potentially more importantly, he managed to beat his own personal best times in all four races. He also proved, without a shadow of a doubt, that he wasn’t going to let the events of June 2007 defeat him.

The Invictus Games is all about the taking part, unlike the Paralympics, which is about winning and being the best in the world. You see, sometimes the bravest and hardest thing is actually stepping up to that start line to compete. Especially when you think about what each and every competitor will have overcome simply to get to that point.

You can read more about Jon at his blog, or find him on Twitter @JBAInspiration.  You can also see him in person playing with the Peterborough Phantoms Sledge Hockey Team!

Visiting with the Steelkings

When the Sheffield Steelkings received an email from two students asking for help with a presentation for school, they decided to invite the two girls along to meet the team.

Emily and Seren are in Year 7 at Wickersley Comprehensive School in Rotherham, and are doing a project on paralympic sports. With obvious good taste, the girls chose to do their presentation on sledge hockey!

Seren and Emily

Seren and Emily with a World Championship bronze medal [photo courtesy of Neil Riley]

From their vantage point in the stands at IceSheffield, they watched the training session last week with team manager Kim, learning about the differences and similarities between sledge and standing hockey, and getting to see how the team plays together. Despite the excitement on the ice, they were somewhat more awed by the World Championship Bronze medal that netminder Bryan Hackworth brought along to show them.

After getting to try on Steelkings jerseys (which were a little too large!), they tried a sledge on for size and experienced what it might feel like if they were on the ice. They still had a few more questions for the players, so when they came off the ice, the girls had a quick chat with a couple of them, making lots of notes for their presentation.

The Steelkings are looking forward to seeing Emily and Seren again next year when the 2015 Planet Ice League starts up, and hopefully in a couple of years they’ll be ready to start training on the ice with the team!

Seren and Emily with the Steelkings

Seren and Emily with the Steelkings [photo courtesy of Neil Riley]

Back to School for Sledge Hockey Players

Last week saw the first International Sledge Hockey School take place at Silver Blades Ice Rink Widnes.  With sledge players from around the world coming to join some of the best new players we have in the UK, it was three days of training – both on and off the ice.  More importantly, it was a chance for players to get to know some of the players they hope to compete against in future international tournaments.

Invitees from the UK teams were Jon Le Galloudec and Tyler Christopher [Peterborough Phantoms], Jason Solmon [Cardiff Devils] and Anthony Booth [Manchester Phoenix], along with GB Head Coach Andrew Linton and Manchester Phoenix Captain and Assistant Coach, Karl Nicholson.  They joined 15 players and coaches from Slovakia, Austria and Norway, who each brought a different series of training drills and discussion points to the event.

The GB team ready to get started [Photo courtesy of Paul Woollias]

The GB team ready to get started [Photo courtesy of Paul Woollias]

In conjunction with Halton Borough Council and Silver Blades Widnes, the event coincided with the launch of a new sensory rink and soft play area. As part of the launch, a friendly game was organised for the first evening of the school. Billed as “GB vs The Rest of the World”, the UK based participants were joined by some of the more experienced GB players. Familiar international names such as Gary Farmer, Rob Gaze and Matt Clarkson took to the ice, easily slipping back into their roles, allowing the new players to appreciate the added challenges that this level of competition brings.

Despite the familiarity of the GB team, the Rest of the World team proved that they were certainly a force to be reckoned with. It was a clean game, with very few penalties, and both teams were evenly matched and neither was willing to give up without a fight.  Just moments before the end of the first period, GB managed to find the back of the net and get the scoring started.  Although there was a little confusion over who got the credit for the goal, the final consensus (at least from the bench) was that it belonged to Gary Farmer.

The second period remained a close battle, but GB were starting to find their place and seemed to take a little more control.  The first penalty came about halfway through the period, with GB’s Matt Woollias sitting for 2 minutes.  However, when Austria’s Stefan Eberdorfer was whistled for a high-stick infringement less than a minute later, we had our first 4-on-4 shift.  Coming up on the end of the period, Woollias was back on the ice, and GB ended the period on the player advantage.

A quick visit from the zamboni – and Widnes Wild’s mascot Pukka Penguin – between periods gave all of the players a chance for a quick breather, but they were soon back on the ice ready for the third and final period.  Gb started with a power play, but even once Eberdorfer’s penalty was over, GB dominated the ice, keeping the action firmly in the opposing end.  With only a few minutes left on the clock, the third penalty was issued, this time to Gary Farmer, who receieved 2 minutes for elbowing.  GB’s penalty killing team held firm though, and only seconds after Farmer returned to the ice, they scored a second goal, this time from Karl Nicholson.  It was already looking like a solid win for the GB team when Farmer decided he wanted another point.  His goal came almost exactly a minute after Nicholson’s, and gave GB a 3-0 lead just in time for the final buzzer.

The supporters – many of whom had never seen a sledge hockey game before – were thrilled with the home win, and gave a rousing cheer for both teams as all of the players came onto the ice and the MVP awards were handed out.

Both teams on the ice at the end of the game [Photo courtesy of Paul Woollias]

Both teams on the ice at the end of the game [Photo courtesy of Paul Woollias]

The game was a great opportunity to see some of the best players this country has to offer, as well as some fantastic players from other countries.  But the sledge hockey school certainly wasn’t over for those “enrolled”.

With the excitement of the previous night’s game over, the following morning started bright and early for all the players.  With both on- and off-ice activities planned, each of the different coaches introduced a number of their own drills and practice sessions, sharing ideas with both the players and the other coaches.  It didn’t seem to matter to any of them that they’d been on the ice for three days – everyone was still raring to go.  Some of the on-ice drills seemed almost as brutal as the international game had been, with (legal!) hits and checks being thrown from all sides!  There were also plenty of opportunities for the players to get to know each other.  While the language barriers made it slightly harder to chat, no one was going to let that get in the way, and a lot of new friendships were formed.

All of the GB players who were invited to attend enjoyed the opportunity.  Jason Solmon from Cardiff Devils, was particularly thrilled with his invite:

I was proud and honoured to have been included in the International Sledge Hockey School, and found the experience invaluable to aiding my development to the next level.

There were many new ideas, drills and techniques that I will personally pass on to the Cardiff Devils Sledge Hockey Team, which will hopefully enable the sport to move forward in terms of player quality in the future.

May I take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all at the BHSA, Silver Blades, Planet Ice and the GB Sledge Hockey Team for their continuing support to both myself and all players of Sledge Hockey.

This event was hopefully only the first of several to come, offering more opportunities in the future for both GB players and those from other countries.

The BSHA would like to thank Silver Blades Widnes for hosting the event, and Halton Borough Council for all their support in making this event possible.

International Friendly at Silver Blades Widnes

GB Sledge Hockey Pic1

Following on from our original post about the International Sledge Hockey School that we posted a couple of weeks ago, Silver Blades Widnes have provided more information about the new community facilities that are being unveiled as part of the event.

Halton Borough Council in partnership with Silver Blades has provided an interactive, sensory ice rink – the only one in the country – and a soft play area which are fully accessible for disabled children and adults.

They will be unveiled on Tuesday evening, September 16, when the Great Britain sledge hockey team take on the Rest of the World at 6pm.

The Council’s Disabled Children’s Service has been working with the team at Silver Blades to develop the fully inclusive facilities and will be setting up opportunities for families and groups of disabled children to go along, have fun and socialise.

The new play areas will available for everyone to use, either as an individual, or part of a family visit, with a group or even for a birthday party.

Matt Lloyd, local Paralympian and Chair of the British Sledge Hockey Association said: “Sledge hockey has always been a key part of the rink in Widnes and it is fantastic that we are able to host an event aimed at developing  international relations at Silver Blades Widnes.  This has been made possible by Halton Council enabling the rink to be a true community facility and supporting its inclusion and sporting agendas.”

Cllr Rob Polhill, Leader of Halton Council, says: “The Council has always been committed to ensuring the ice rink is fully inclusive for the whole community and have been working closely with Matt to bring out these fantastic new facilities. We’re also pleased to be supporting the development of sledge hockey here, and hope that events like this will attract more and more people to either play or come and watch this great sport.”

Paul Coby, Silver Blades Ice Rink Manager added: “We have world class facilities at Widnes rink and we are delighted to host this International Sledge Hockey event.  As a rink we have worked with the Council to provide a truly inclusive facility and we have worked hard to develop and deliver programmes which enable all the local community to participate in healthy recreational activities.”

The event on Tuesday evening starts at 6pm with the game starting at 6:45pm.  As always, entry is completely free, so come on down to Silver Blades Widnes and give the GB team your full support!

Help For Our Hero

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Doug Hankinson [Far Right] with the rest of the Manchester Phoenix Sledge Hockey Team

When Doug Hankinson discovered sledge hockey early in 2014, he didn’t realise then how important it would become to him. He left the Royal Engineers in 1999 after having served for 13 years, and was looking for something to replace the rugby that he’d loved to play.

After seeing the coverage of the 2012 Winter Olympics, and catching an episode of Channel 4’s “The Last Leg”, Doug decided to make enquiries about local sledge hockey teams. He was put in touch with Karl Nicholson, captain of the Manchester Phoenix Sledge Hockey Team, and was on the ice shortly afterwards.

While Doug is one of the newer members of the team, he’s thrown himself into the game completely.

It is an art form in its own right.  Learning to balance in the sledge on ice, the physicality that is needed just to move around (working on upper body and cardio).  Learning the techniques for handling the sledge, using the sticks correctly and trying to hit the puck at the same time.  Then to top it all, you play with and against some of the best Paralympic Sledge players in GB…quite a baptism of fire for my first season.

But the one thing he found that was holding him back was the equipment. While all of the BSHA sledge hockey teams have a supply of sledges, padding and sticks that they gladly loan out to new players, most discover a huge improvement in their play when they finally get into a sledge that’s been built to their own specs. But sledges aren’t cheap, with the only current suppliers being outside of the UK, players can be looking at around £500 for one of their own.

But like all Royal Engineers, Doug decided to find a way to resolve the problem. With some advice from his Manchester Phoenix captain, he applied for a grant from Help For Heroes and was thrilled when his application was approved.

The new kit from “Help for Heroes” will help build on the new confidence I’ve already gained and allow greater control of the new sledge.  I have also been using Pro-lite sticks from Draft Wheelchairs, which are wooden but an ideal start, so I’m upgrading to Composite Carbon Sticks.  I also requested better shoulder padding and footwear.  The boots I use are just walking boots and I need better protection with my feet (Triple arthrodesis, both feet), especially if the pick end of the stick gets you!  The confidence of being better protected, better armed and better maneuvering will hopefully show during training and into the 2015 season.

Doug’s plan now is to get his new equipment ordered and start training with it over the off-season. He already got his first point against the Peterborough Phantoms with an assist on one of Karl Nicholson’s goals and fully intends to increase that number in the new season.

If you’re considering giving sledge hockey a try, but don’t know if it’s for you, Doug’s got some advice:

Try it, it may just be the best thing that changes your life.

Who are we to argue with that?

If you’d like to find out more about sledge hockey or find a team near you, drop us an email at communications@sledgehockey.co.uk or find us on Twitter (@SledgeHockey) or Facebook (search British Sledge Hockey).  Special thanks to Help For Heroes for their generous donation.

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