CLEVELAND - It’s the game of hockey like you’ve probably never seen before.
Daniel Lemmer, 19, plays Right Wing for Ohio United says it best. “ It's hard hitting, full contact,” said Lemmer.
“I got on the ice and I was immediately hooked,” Team Captain, 26-year-old Nick Calabrese said.
That was three years ago, when Calabrese joined the Ohio United Sled Hockey Team. He says it has given him a new reason to live.
Calabrese lost his ability to walk when he was 15 after breaking his back on an ATV. The others on the team are also disabled. How each of the the players got here differs, but the dream they share is the same.
“I’ve always said life goes on, and never let anything hold me back,” Calabrese said.
Just like any sport, these athletes are faced with challenges that come with the sport. Calabrese says skating is the trickiest part with sled hockey as it involves a lot of core strength and a lot of balance.
Butt, Mike Fenster, Head Coach of Ohio United says the important thing is not treating the players as disabled athletes, but treating them as athletes.
Fenster, whose 13-year old son plays on the team, says this game is more than wins and losses. His dad says he's seen a change in his son since he's been playing.
“It has instilled confidence in him. It’s an ability, not a disability for him,” Fenster said.
The rules and objective of sled-hockey are the same as the able-bodied game, but there is one big difference in playing defense.
“Stand-up hockey, defense is played 70 percent skating backwards. Well, you can’t do that in sled hockey. So, it’s very important to learn angles and how to approach, and how to attack," said Fenster.
Thinking of going to check out a a game? Calabrese has a word of warning for new fans in the stands. He says this is not a pity party.
“Don’t feel bad for us, feel happy for us. We’re getting out here having fun, enjoying each other, playing a sport we can’t normally play,” he said.
It’s a life-changing game these guys hope to continue playing for years to come.
“I’d love to play into my 50s or 60s if I could,” said Lemmer.