The ice rink in the early morning is cold, very cold. It is so cold you can see your breath sometimes. It is so cold you wonder why anyone in the world would want to be there. But you want to be there. The sounds of pucks being hit off the boards and blades swishing across the ice. You also hear players talking to each other. “Pass the puck over here.” “Get back by the net.” “Hit it off the boards.” “Score!”
If you listen, you can hear people cheering for their favorite players or team from the stands. Sometimes a small crowd of just parents and family. Sometimes a larger crowd. I can sometimes hear my mom, my sister and my grandparents. But you don’t listen because you are concentrating on the game. After the game we go to the locker room while they Zamboni the ice for the next game. Our coach tells us what we did well and what we did not do well. It is not as cold in the locker room, so we can get our gear off and go and have a snack and hot chocolate from the concession stand.
The rink is where I met some of my best friends. I play sled hockey. Sled hockey is a Paralympic sport, and the USA is very good at it. The USA Paralympic team has won gold in the last four Paralympics. You can Google sled (or sledge) hockey if you do not know what it is. When I started playing sled hockey for the Cincinnati Icebreakers, I met many friends. They taught me to fight for the puck. And protect it from other players. You will probably see some of them in the Paralympics one day.
Most of my teammate friends are very athletic like me. Some use a wheelchair like me or other mobility aides. Usually, our sled hockey team loses but that is OK because we have fun.
We have traveled to tournaments in Detroit, Chicago, Fort Wayne, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Pekin and Wooster together. Pekin has the coldest locker rooms in the world, I think. You learn a lot about your friends when you travel with them for the weekend.
On Saturday night during each weekend tournament, we get together for pizza and snacks. Sometimes we play video games on our phones together. Sometimes we swim in the hotel pool or race around the hotel lobby. This is the most fun because we can just talk and hang out with our true friends.