The world’s eyes may have been fixed recently on the ice in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but some unconventional skaters took to the rink here in Kansas City earlier this month.
It might seem like being in a wheelchair or having balance problems would prevent you from ice skating or playing hockey, but a group of kids is turning that assumption on its head.
Last year, Leawood resident Nancy Truitt approached Deborah Wiebrecht, the executive director of Variety KC, with a problem.
Truitt’s older son played hockey and her 14-year-old son, Maddox, who uses a wheelchair, was dejected because he couldn’t play, too.
“Since Maddox was little, he’s been relegated to the stands,” said Truitt, who is a parent advocate for Variety KC. “... A lot of times, we’ll just leave Maddox home with a babysitter, because he doesn’t want to sit in the stands and watch. He just wants to be a kid, too. He wants to be able to do the things other kids do. We don’t ever tell Maddox he can’t do something because of his disability. We just figure out how to make it happen.”
Through Variety KC, a local non-profit that focuses on adaptability and inclusion for kids with disabilities, Wiebrecht and Truitt worked on a solution.
They called the Kansas City Mavericks hockey team and asked them to help provide sled-hockey kits and adaptive walkers at the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena in Independence. With the Mavs’ help and Variety KC’s fundraising, Wiebrecht raised enough money within three months.
A sled-hockey kit looks a bit like an airport luggage cart with blades on the bottom instead of wheels. There’s a removable bar at the back, so someone can push the occupant around the ice, if necessary.
If the person using the sled has enough upper body strength and coordination, he or she can use a special stick, which has a curved end like a hockey stick at one end and a metal claw at the other end. The metal end digs into the ice and allows the individual to glide.
The walkers are basically metal frames that someone can hold onto and push along with them anywhere on the ice. They do not have blades on the bottom but slide easily on the ice. Anyone can check out a walker or sled during open skate times at the arena.
Robyn Jones, of Grain Valley, said the equipment is vital for allowing her 14-year-old son Ryan to join in the fun on the ice with his brother and sister.
“Without the adaptive equipment, it’s something he would not be able to do on his own,” Jones said. “He can play baseball with assistance, but ice skating — there’s no way he would be able to do it without the equipment Variety has provided.”
Although Ryan, who is non-verbal, doesn’t have the coordination to push himself along the ice, he “enjoys the movement, the wind on his face” when someone pushes his sled around, his mother said.
“They’re so proud they can do it, and they can do it on their own,” Wiebrecht said. “It gives them confidence. Sometimes when you have a child with a disability, they’re never included. We want them to know that with special equipment, they can be like every other child.”
Recently, Variety KC reserved an hour on the ice for about 30 kids and their families to use the adaptive equipment. Some of the kids wore skates with the walkers, others simply walked around the ice with the walkers, and still others strapped in on the hockey sleds.
“IPads, adaptive equipment like this — it’s hard to come by,” said James Arkell, who is a member of the Mavericks’ ownership group and is on the board of Variety KC. “It’s really expensive, and you can’t go buy it at Toys R Us. ... Inclusion is so important, but sometimes it’s hard to make it work.”
Arkell’s son, Michael, also has received help through Variety KC.
For 12-year-old Sam Peers, of Liberty, who coasted around the rink with one of the walkers, the event was a chance “to have fun and be who we are.”
Samantha Spangler, of Blue Springs, has brought her three children to the rink multiple times to skate with the adaptive equipment.
“At first, they were so scared, but once they get on that ice, you see their face just light up,” she said. “... When they realize they’re not going to fall, they start zooming all over the place.”
Variety KC has done six or seven of these events since the fall. This time, several Mavericks players turned out to skate and shoot pucks with the kids. One even climbed into a sled to skate like the kids.
“Some of them have really good puck-handling skills, and they shoot it under their sled, which is pretty cool,” Mavericks defenseman Bryce Aneloski said. “It’s great to see them out here with a stick and a puck, having fun, just like we did when we were kids.”