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2014-01-11 at 17:37

Learning new skills

By Matt Vis,
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You don’t need to have a pair of skates on your feet to play a game of ice hockey.

That’s where a sledge and two specialized sticks come in handy.

The sport of sledge hockey, where participants each sit reclined in a specialized sledge with blades that cut into the ice and propel forward with sticks that have picks on one end and a shooting blade on the other.

Sledge hockey coordinator Darren Lillington said the profile of the sport is growing in Thunder Bay and events such as the city’s free skating tutorials on the outdoor rinks at the James Street Kinsmen Centre on Saturday helps spread the word.

“We really want to start incorporating sledge hockey into the city’s learn to skate programs,” Lillington said. “This was an opportunity for us to bring the equipment out and raise more awareness about this sport hopefully to recruit more participants into that program.”

Sledge hockey wasn’t the only lesson available, as skating instructors were offering drop-in lessons to those over the age of three.

Skating instructor Amanda Lemay said the afternoon session was an opportunity to generate interest in the programs that start next week. She is a former competitive synchronized skater that coaches and runs various programs throughout the city.

“Our biggest program is our learn to skate program which is available for everyone three and up and it takes skaters that have never been on the ice before to getting up on their own and into skills getting them ready for figure skating or hockey,” she said.

Lemay added they run at four arenas across the city and are currently about 60 per cent full.

With most common winter sports, such as skating and skiing, reliant upon standing and balance, sledge hockey provides those with disabilities with an opportunity to feel included and active outdoors.

“It’s a great way to get out and get some recreation and physical activity,” Lillington said. “It’s been a really positive impact on a lot of people’s lives.”

For those interested, Lillington said the learning curve in getting used to the manoeuvrability of the sledge isn’t extremely steep.

He said the exercise is a great upper body workout and most people can get the hang of it after about 10 minutes. The stability of the sledge can be adjusted to accommodate beginners and more experienced players.

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