Game of sled hockey changes player's life

CLEVELAND - When life takes a tragic, unexpected turn, the list of ways you can react is long. From denial to depression – and anger to acceptance – the choice is yours. There’s a group of courageous young men making the decision to dig deep, and hopefully inspire people along the way.

“It’s given me a new reason to live,” said Nick Calabrese.  “It’s given me new life.” 

At age 15, Nick Calabrese’s life took a tragic turn.

“I broke my back on an ATV,” said Calabrese.

One might then think playing hockey would be out of the question, but it’s not.

“I got on the ice and I was immediately hooked,” said Calabrese.

Calabrese, who’s been playing for 3 years, is captain of the Ohio United Sled Hockey Team. The game may look different, but the intensity on the ice isn’t.

“Hard hitting, full contact,” said Daniel Lemmer.

How they got here differs, but the dream these players share is the same.

“The important thing is not treating them as disabled athletes, but treating them as athletes, which they are,” said Mike Fenster.

Fenster, head coach of Ohio United, has a 13-year old son on the team. Michael was born without part of his tailbone.

“There are a lot of feelings when you are given that diagnosis and the original prognosis is that he would sit in the corner and rock the rest of his life,” said Fenster. “You start wondering what life is going to be like for him.”

That was before Michael joined the team.  Now, there’s no more wondering for this dad.

“It has instilled confidence in him, said Fenster.  “It’s an ability, not a disability for him.”

A word of warning for new fans in the stands, this is not a pity party.

“Don’t feel bad for us, feel happy for us,” said Calabrese.  “We’re getting out here having fun enjoying each other, playing a sport we can’t normally play.  I’ve always said life goes on – and never let anything hold me back.”

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