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 email@example.com or find us on Twitter (@SledgeHockey) or Facebook (search British Sledge Hockey). Special thanks to Help For Heroes for their generous donation.