After Sean Halstead shattered his vertebrae and damaged his spine during a training exercise with the Air Force in 1998, the Spokane native lost the use of his legs. However, the Mead High School alumnus learned that visceral athletic activity was still possible.
Halstead, 50, discovered sled hockey in 2001 and fell in love with the sport.
“My VA in Seattle said that I should check out this clinic,” Halstead said from his Rathdrum home. “The hook was set, and I was the fish. I loved it. The clinic exposed me to this amazing sport.”
Within three years, Halstead was playing on a sled hockey team in Denver. “That was the closest team to here,” Halstead said. “We played in some tournaments in 2004 and 2005, and it was such a good time. It’s amazing what’s been accomplished through sled hockey.”
Halstead is a two-time Paralympian who is looking forward to spreading the word about his sport in Spokane.
Thanks to Halstead and Teresa Skinner, Parasport Spokane executive director, the uninitiated can fall in love, just like Halstead, with sled hockey courtesy of a clinic Saturday and Sunday at Eagles Ice Arena.
“I’m very excited about this,” Skinner said . “ It’s such a great sport, and it will be a nice fit right here in Spokane right along with track and field and basketball.”
Thanks to a grant from Move United and the Hartford, Skinner was able to purchase 10 sleds and sticks.
“We put in for the grant in January, and everything is happening so fast, which is great,” Skinner said. “We wanted to start this quickly. Everything fell into place. We have two incredibly talented Paralympians coming in with Sean Halstead and Rico Roman.”
Both were part of the Paralympic sled hockey squad in Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014.
“I didn’t know the rules of hockey before I started playing sled hockey, but I fell in love with the game,” Roman said while calling from his Portland home. “I’ve been playing for 11 years. I’m the assistant co-captain of the Paralympic team, and part of that role is to help grow the sport.
“I want to see people come out this weekend in Spokane and discover something they might become very passionate about. I can’t say enough about the game. I have two gold medals and so many great memories.”
Sled hockey is not for the faint of heart. “It definitely gets rough out there,” Roman said. “We wear pads, and the puck we shoot is a regular puck. We’re rifling that puck. Also, the top half of the hockey boards flex. The bottom of the boards where we are don’t flex. The hits are pretty intense!”
If a fledgling disabled player wants to bring an able-bodied pal along to the clinic, all are welcome.
“It’ll be an inclusive experience this weekend,” Roman said. “I just want people to see what this game is about, and they might just love it as much as I do.”
Roman, 40, plays for the San Antonio Rampage sled hockey team but hopes that a squad forms in the Pacific Northwest.
“Now that Seattle has a team in the NHL, maybe the Seattle Kraken can back a team out here. So, heck yeah, I would love to represent the Pacific Northwest. I would love it if there was a team here or in Seattle or Spokane,” he said. “Maybe there’s some players who will come out of Spokane. Hopefully, they’ll come out this weekend to check out sled hockey.”
The opportunity will be there courtesy of Skinner. “The first sled hockey practice is scheduled for the following Sunday. We’re not going to drop the ball on this.”
But Skinner, an occupational therapist, and company will drop the puck on sled hockey.
“We can’t wait to watch this sport take off,” Skinner said. “This will be a weekend we’ll all remember. We still have some room for more people, so come out and check out sled hockey. It might change your life.”
Sled hockey’s Saturday session is 4:45-6:45 p.m., and Sunday’s is 12:15-2:15 p.m. at Eagles Ice Arena, 6321 N. Addison St. For more information, call (509) 999-6466 and go to parasportspokane.org.
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