Free sled hockey clinics for challenged athletes set for March 21-22 |

Free sled hockey clinics for challenged athletes set for March 21-22

Chad Sellmer, Tribune staff writer

The South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena will host back-to-back, free clinics March 21-22 designed to introduce the sport of sled hockey to athletes with mobility impairments.

The clinics will feature some members of the gold medal-winning 2002 U.S. Sled Hockey Team and 1998 Paralympic Sled Hockey Team instructing and demonstrating. They are scheduled for Friday from 7:15-10:30 a.m. and Saturday from 7:15-9:30 a.m. and continuing from 3:30-5 p.m. at the ice arena. Another clinic is scheduled for Sunday at Total Sports Ice Arena in Sparks from 10-11:30 a.m.

Gary Moore, recreation supervisor for the city of South Lake Tahoe and the general manager of the local ice arena, said the idea is to appeal to the area’s challenged athletes and generate interest in this alternative sport.

“We originally went together with (Ordinary People meeting Extraordinary Needs) to start something for challenged athletes in the community,” Moore said. “It seemed like a great program. We’re a small community, so, of course, we don’t have enough participants for a sled hockey team. What we can do is start facilitating. At this point, we have 17 sleds that have been purchased by donations throughout the community, from service clubs to individuals, and we also have money set aside in this fund to start sled hockey or similar programs.”

The sled, which is fitted with skates, is designed to allow individuals with physical disabilities — including amputees, paraplegics and those with knee, leg or hip injuries — to enjoy an adaptive version of traditional ice hockey. In addition to the sled, participants use shortened hockey sticks to propel themselves across the ice, similar to the motion of a cross country skier.

Billie Bridges, a member of OPEN and this year’s volunteer of the year in El Dorado County’s District 5, got her first glimpse of sled hockey last year and has been dedicating her time ever since to seeing it brought to town.

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“About a year ago I was watching paralympics on television and these guys came on to do their sled hockey games,” Bridges said. “I was just amazed at how they can maneuver so fast. They are really something to watch. It just takes your breath away.

“We want to get as many people involved in this as we can, not just in South Lake Tahoe but all over the lake,” she added. “We would really like to get the Special Olympics people involved because a lot of them can’t skate but can certainly get on the sleds. I’m 75 and I got on one.”

Moore said he hopes the ice arena can eventually become a hub of challenged athlete-oriented events.

“We would like to be known in the community the same way that Alpine Meadows is known for disabled skiing and Kirkwood for blind skiers,” he said. “We want to get involved in the Western U.S. in this program. In doing so, we aligned ourselves with individuals from the city of Reno who have experience and contacts with paralympics sled hockey teams. They felt this would be a neat area to put on some clinics and also work out and participate.

“Some of these members are outstanding athletes,” he added. “It would be a good experience for our community and challenged athletes in the region. This is going to be a fun thing for us.”

In addition to the clinics, members of the U.S. team will put on an exhibition on Saturday beginning at 5:30 p.m. between periods of a local hockey game.