Cheryl Price is a 35-year-old woman from Boca Raton, Florida. She is probably the last person you’d expect to find playing ice hockey, considering that she lives in sunny Florida and is paralyzed from the waist down from a spinal cord injury she suffered at birth. Thanks to the Florida Panthers Sled Hockey Team, she’s hitting the ice and loving every minute of it.
The first time Price took to the ice she was hesitant, but her teammates coaxed her along. With each pass of the arena, she became more comfortable. On September 30th, she was one of just 15 participants in an sled hockey clinic, which organizers hope will lead to the team traveling and competing against other sled hockey teams in the future.
Sled hockey first came about in Stockholm, Sweden during the 1960s. Several National Hockey League teams have gotten involved in promoting the sport here in the United States, and the Florida Panthers jumped on board.
“Don’t weep for anyone here,” said Ron Robichaud, head of the Florida Sled Hockey Association. “This sport is full check, full contact. These people want you to cheer for them because they are playing well, not because they are disabled.”
The sport is expensive, much like traditional hockey. A sled will cost $700, and equipment runs $1,000 per player. Insurance is covered at no additional expense to the participant.
The cost is well worth it when you see the smiles on the faces as the players leave the ice. Daniella Lombardi, a 26-year-old woman who was nearly killed in a motorcycle accident in 2006, is a full-time student and active sled hockey participant.
“When I started playing hockey in Tampa, there were people with worse conditions than mine and they were happy,” Lombardi said. “It is truly the best medicine and the best therapy I have ever received.”
The team is looking for players and volunteers, including non-disabled volunteers, so the program can reach more athletes.
“There is no league yet, but it looks like it will finally take off (in Coral Springs),” Robichaud said. “Florida is on the map for sled hockey. We have the whole country talking. There wasn’t a frown coming off the ice today.”