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Back on the ice

Sled hockey player
U.S. Army Veteran Roger Bell took up sled hockey three years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic kept him sidelined for two years. The VA Salt Lake recreation therapy program recently restarted the sled hockey program, giving Veterans the opportunity to take to the ice once again.

VA Salt Lake City recreation therapy program is looking to bring a little checking and scoring back into the lives of Veterans.

The program recently restarted its sled hockey program after a hiatus due to COVID-19. The sport is adaptive hockey and gives folks with lower-body mobility issues the opportunity to take to the ice as a member of a team.

“We all know the team environment and the sport environment is really huge for people. It is really motivating and really encouraging. You’re never sure if you can do something quite as good as somebody else, so you can see that and learn that, and then you can also be a mentor to new participants,” said Dayna Geiger, VA Salt Lake City Physical Therapist.

Geiger started the VA Salt Lake City sled hockey program four years ago. She first learned about the sport at the VA and Disabled Veterans of America Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, Colorado.

Watch the VA Salt Lake Sled Hockey Video

Like most adaptive sports, the benefits go way beyond just getting in shape; U.S. Army Veteran Roger Bell experienced those added benefits firsthand and has missed them during the pandemic.

“You’re working your body, but you are doing it together. When you are by yourself, you can’t do much, but when you are here participating with other Veterans, it is more enjoyable” said Bell.

Sled Hockey instructor/coach John Bryan has been playing since he was eight years old. He teaches the players the basics of skating, stick handling, passing, shooting, positioning, and the rules of the game. Bryan sees the difference in the Veterans, going from hesitant to hitting and scoring.

“I’ve seen how they are when you first meet them, and over time, once they get going, it’s good to see the progression,” said Bryan.

VA Salt Lake City Recreational Therapist Mia Mortensen sees that progression as well.

“This is why I show up to work to see Veterans in action, to see them out there trying something new, to see them using their strengths, using their mobility, and the camaraderie… I get to see the Veterans see that they are strong and remind themselves of what they are made of and who they are and what they can do,” said Mortensen.

Pre-pandemic the team was made up of 70 percent Veterans and 30 percent non-Veterans, and as Geiger, Mortensen, and Bryan look to rebuild the team, they would like to see that many Veterans getting in a sled again. If you are a Veteran who is interested in sled hockey, you should talk to your primary care physician about a consult or contact recreation therapy at 801-582-1565 ext. 1576. If you are non-Veteran with lower mobility issues, contact Salt Lake County Sports Complex at 385-468-1925.

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