The average hockey player starts skating at the age of three or four. I started just before I turned 20. By that time, I had already learned to speak French, and had worked at a Tim Hortons. Being the proud Canadian that I am, playing hockey seemed like the next logical step -- or at least that’s what I like to tell people. The truth is I didn’t have any interest in team sports before I lost my vision.
I got my first diagnosis just after my 18th birthday. The doctor told me I would have 15 to 20 years before my vision started to present any serious problems. I figured that’s plenty of time to go to school, get a job and start building a life for myself. Six months later I was declared legally blind. After a semester and a half of struggling to keep up with my schoolwork while also learning to use a cane and go to the hospital for tests multiple times a week, I finally had to admit that I couldn’t keep up anymore.
I left school and moved back in with my mom. About a week later I got a call from my O&M (Orientation and Mobility instructor), Karen. O&Ms teach visually impaired people how to use canes to navigate their surroundings. She had another client named Mark who wanted to talk to me. Mark had also started losing his vision as he was finishing high school and starting university. He invited me to come out and play beep baseball—an adapted version of baseball for the visually impaired in the spring, and blind hockey the following winter.
How Blind Hockey Works
Blind Hockey is fairly similar to conventional hockey, with a few notable adaptations:
- The puck is made of steel and filled with 12 ball bearings to make noise.
- The nets are a foot shorter than typical NHL nets to reduce shots at the goalie’s head.
- In order for a goal to count, players must make one complete pass after crossing the blue line before shooting on the net. This gives the goalie a chance to track the puck.
At the competitive level, everyone on the ice (except the referee) is visually impaired. At the recreational level, sighted volunteers are also allowed to play but discouraged from shooting on the net.
Most people who play blind hockey also have experience playing ice hockey from before they lost their vision. I had to start from square one. Canadian Blind Hockey has a youth program in Toronto. That’s where I learned how to skate. When the program started in January of 2018, I was 19. By the time it finished 10 weeks later, I had turned 20. With hard work, dedication, great coaches and a little bit of luck, I scored my first goal at the national tournament later that year.
How Blind Sports Help
I’ve learned a lot from my coaches and teammates, not just about the game itself, but about inclusion, positivity and adapting to change. People of all ages and backgrounds come together to play the game. The youngest player on our team is 15 and the oldest just turned 80 last year. We’ve also got several players with hearing loss in addition to their visual impairments. On top of all of that, the game is fully coed. The most important thing for us is making sure everybody gets time on the ice.
Getting involved in blind sports helped me adjust to life with a visual impairment. I’m surrounded by positive role models. Almost all of them have good jobs or are retired and they all have amazing support systems in the form of friends and family who come out to watch the games and volunteer. They’re also some of the kindest, most positive people I’ve ever met. It’s a great comfort to me to know that people with visual impairments can live active, fulfilling lives.
I’m proud to be part of such a wonderful community.