Sledge hockey fulfils dreams.

Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday December 11, 2010. Reproduced with permission.
By: Matt Preprost. Photos: Phil Hossack.

SMD helps fund programs to give disabled kids access to sports

Being disabled doesn’t mean people give up on their dreams, something that Bill Muloin has seen time and time again through his work.

Spencer Lambert (left), with Bill Muloin, now has Olympic-sized ambitions.

Spencer Lambert (left), with Bill Muloin, now has Olympic-sized ambitions.

Muloin, supervisor of child recreation and leisure at the Society for Manitobans With Disabilities, started a sledge hockey program in 2007, giving disabled persons a chance to play a modified version of Canada’s favourite sport.

“One of our senior guys is one of four or five in western Canada who actually made the developmental squad for the national team,” Muloin said. “He was a high-level hockey player who broke his back and his dream of pursuing any kind of hockey career was gone in an instant.

“All of a sudden sledge hockey skates onto the scene and here’s this guy reliving his dream.”

In sledge hockey, players move around on sleds that have two skates fitted underneath. Players use two sticks about a third the size of regular hockey sticks to shimmy themselves about the ice and shoot the puck.

Now in its third full season, the group has grown from a handful of participants to more than 50 – enough to break the program into separate youth and adult leagues.

The MTS Iceplex also built an adaptable rink that can accommodate sledge players, one of only a handful in Canada, Muloin said.

The sport has given 10-year-old Spencer Lambert Olympic-sized dreams. Lambert, who was born with spina bifida, has grown up watching his older sisters play ringette, but has been sidelined from sports much of his life.

“He’s been watching them his whole life on the ice and skating around and doing what they want. He got into it, he was quite happy and picked it up quite quickly,” said his father, Richard, adding that his son plans to continue playing and eventually try out for Canada’s Paralympic team.

“With kids like Spencer who are born with a disability, their aspirations are no different,” Muloin said. “They watch hockey, watch their siblings play hockey and sledge hockey gets them thinking, ‘Hey I can be a professional sledge player, I could play for my country.'”

This year, the United Way contributed more than $986,000 to SMD. Some of that money is funneled to help fund Muloin’s recreational programming.

Muloin called United Way’s contributions “instrumental” in giving kids with disabilities access to sports.

“I wouldn’t be here. Maybe someone would have grabbed sledge hockey down the road, but without (United Way) a lot of our programs wouldn’t be here,” he said. “They’re changing barriers for people with disabilities. A lot of people just see the final product, the kids on the ice, they don’t see behind the scenes.

“They’re on the ice because of the United Way, because we were able to change attitudes, which helped us get equipment and create a rink that can accommodate the sport,” he said. “The city wouldn’t be as dynamic as what they’re offering to people with disabilities.”

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