Twin Passions, Singular Drive
Written by Administrator
St. Anthony's brothers born two minutes apart face life in different ways, but find common ground in sports.
Twins, born two minutes apart. That’s Chris and Joshua Bacon.
Fate made them different. Yet they share a bond few could comprehend.
The St. Anthony’s High School seniors from Dix Hills will announce their college choices Wednesday on National Signing Day. The twins will be joined by several other Friars, who will make commitments in football, soccer and track.
Chris Jr., the eldest, talks about what it’s like to play basketball at MSG. And his face lights up. Like so many teenagers, he’s found himself in sports.
Joshua is an accomplished athlete in his own right. He’s a kicker who hopes to someday nail the game-winning field goal in the ACC championship game.
But Chris is sitting in a wheelchair as he speaks, so the words grow weighty with every syllable. The journey takes on new meaning. Every inch forward awakens fresh pain in his shoulders and takes tread off his wheels.
These wheels have seen the miles.
“Nothing’s ever stopped him, no matter the obstacle,” Joshua said.
Chris Jr. was born with segmental spinal dysgenesis, a rare abnormality where a segment of the spine and spinal cord fails to develop properly. He underwent 15 surgeries by the fifth grade.
“We spent our whole childhood in hospitals,” said Joshua, by his brother’s side the entire way. That still holds true today.
“They look after one another all the time,” St. Anthony’s Athletic Director Don Buckley said of the brothers. “They are very committed, very focused on what they want.”
Chris never imagined he wouldn’t play sports. Sibling rivalry stoked his competitive fires.
“We’re both passionate about what we do,” Chris Jr. said. “We’re competitive against each other. No matter where we are.”
There was sled hockey first. Then Chris took up wheelchair basketball. That was four years ago. When his brother wasn’t grabbing rebounds, he was manning a spare wheelchair and battling him head-to-head.
They began their high school careers at Commack before transferring to the South Huntington parochial school as juniors.
“We’ve spent every single day of our lives together,” Joshua explained. “He’s my other half.”
Joshua, a gifted defender in club soccer, became a crossover standout in football. St. Anthony’s has developed a reputation for churning out elite kickers. After converting 18 of 20 extra points last fall Joshua hopes to be the latest as a preferred walk-on at the University of Miami.
He’s aiming high. But when your brother defies the odds every day, how can you not be inspired to expect more from yourself?
Veteran coaches aren't immune to it. Rich Reichert, the winningest football coach in Suffolk history, has a weight room full of strongmen. He sees the remarkable every day.
The image that stands out in his mind? Chris Jr. doing chin ups still strapped to his wheelchair, 20-pound weights added for good measure. The wheelchair goes airborne with every rep.
“He’s doing sets of pull ups in the wheelchair,” Reichert said. “Unbelievable. Really hard working kid with a great attitude. It’s wonderful to see.”
Limitations don’t define Chris Jr.
He started a wheelchair basketball program over the summer at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He’s a member of the New York Rollin’ Knicks, a wheelchair basketball team sponsored by the NBA franchise. He was one of the youngest players invited to try out for the under-23 national team in Colorado Springs, Colo.
And while he didn’t make the cut, Chris Jr. is a Paralympian hopeful in 2016 and beyond.
That’s why Wednesday Chris Jr. will also announce his college choice. The University of Alabama has one of top adaptive athletic programs in the nation. Chris Bacon Jr. will accept a scholarship to go there. He’ll play college basketball and study business.
“A lot of kids don’t realize how hard it is being in a wheelchair, having a disability,” Chris said. “It makes me look at life a lot better knowing I have such a great opportunity [ahead].”
In Sled Hockey, a Slower Pace but Hard Shots and Hits
Written by Administrator
By Dave Caldwell
NEWINGTON, Conn. — Back on her wheelchair and in the dressing room with her teammates, Sara Tabor said it had not been such a bad day on the ice. Her team, the Rangers, had lost twice, but she scored a goal after nearly bowling over a goaltender with her sled.
She laughed when she said opponents grumbled that she should have been called for a penalty, but she already knew that the referees rarely penalize the few women in the Northeast Sled Hockey League. Levels the playing field, you know.
“I play really aggressive hockey,” said Tabor, who lives on Long Island and works in Manhattan. “They’ll say: ‘She’s a girl! Why does she get to hold?’ The refs never call anything. You get in guys’ heads.”
Tabor, 31, is in her rookie season with a sled-hockey team sponsored, in part, by the N.H.L.’s Rangers, which explains why players wear red, white and blue sweaters.
Tabor was partly paralyzed when she fell in a shower in Germany four years ago. She grew up in Minnesota and is a Wild fan (and a North Stars fan before that), but had never played organized hockey until she was injured.
She is unable to walk without the aid of leg braces or crutches, and she needs to use a wheelchair to get from Penn Station to work, often slaloming through pedestrians. Hockey has rejuvenated her.
“I count my blessings a lot,” she said. Of her injury, she said: “It’s not something I dwell on. I just have to get stuff done.”
Though able-bodied people play sled hockey, the sport was designed for athletes with mobility limitations caused by injuries or conditions like cerebral palsy. It is a part of the Paralympic Games.
The Rangers are one of six teams in the Northeast Sled Hockey League, the first of its kind, which holds five games one Sunday per month at the Newington Arena, near Hartford. Each team plays eight regular-season games and there are also playoff games. The annual entry fee is $3,000 per team. Many teams pad their schedules by playing in tournaments.
Players strap themselves into seated $800 sleds with two skates mounted on the bottom, one at the front, one under the seat. They propel themselves with two half-hockey sticks in a fashion similar to cross-country skiers. Composite sticks cost $120 per pair and have small spikes bolted to the butt ends. (Tabor tapes hers pink.)
The stick blades are less curved than those on standard ice-hockey sticks, and the elbows of the sticks are straighter than those on ice-hockey sticks, in part because the players are lower to the ice. A 45-minute game is played on a standard rink.
“We’re not just some disabled people playing out there who are looking for a pat on the back,” said Victor Calise, a founder and team manager of the sled-hockey Rangers.
Calise, also No. 9 (think Adam Graves) on the ice, began playing sled hockey not long after he was paralyzed in a bicycle accident in Queens in 1994 — “the year the Rangers won the Stanley Cup,” he said, smiling. Calise, 40, is a commissioner in New York City for the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and lives on the Upper West Side with his wife and two daughters.
Icing and offsides are called, and players on sleds often clash — and crash — while jousting for loose pucks in corners. Penalties are rare, but they are called by two able-bodied officials. There is only one concession at Newington: Players who are not in the game sit inside the boards, nudging live pucks back into play.
The pace of sled hockey, of course, is much slower than, say, even the youth games played at Newington Arena, but the action can be ferocious. Wrist shots are hard, and players occasionally separate shoulders and snap collarbones when they slam into the boards.
“It’s full contact,” said Taylor Chace, 26, a player for the United States Paralympic team who sustained a severe back injury while playing junior hockey in New Hampshire 10 years ago. “There’s just as much as able-bodied hockey.”
As a volunteer for the Wheelchair Sports Federation, Calise serves as a liaison between the organization and the Rangers, who provide the sled-hockey team with jerseys, the use of their logo, ice time for practice twice a month at their training facility in Greenburgh, N.Y., and, occasionally, a grant. There is also an affiliated youth program.
Calise, who grew up in Queens playing street hockey, said the Rangers’ affiliation with the sled-hockey team generates positive publicity for both teams. But he added that in a city with 800,000 disabled residents, it should be easier to find players than it has been. The Rangers have about 20 players on their roster, including three women.
Asked to describe just how much of a workout a game is, Calise smiled and said: “Depends on how hard you push on your shift. You can’t just push yourself out there and play.”
On a recent Sunday, the Rangers played back-to-back games against two of the best teams in the N.S.H.L.: the NEP Wildcats, a Durham, N.H.-based team for which Chace plays, and the Flyers, whose players are from the Philadelphia area.
Each team can have up to three able-bodied players, but no more than two of them can be on the ice at one time, said Ken Messier, the president of the league and one of its founders in 2005. The team known as the Rangers joined in 2007.
“If you have a good goalie, he can make up for a lot — just like regular hockey,” said Messier, who helps run the Connecticut Wolf Pack, another N.S.H.L. team.
Then there are players like Tabor. She is a sled-hockey devotee who has gone from a newbie to a player who is considering trying out for the United States women’s sled-hockey team.
She has made friends here quickly, and her boyfriend, Larry Minei, also plays for the Rangers. She said she is beyond the point of thinking that she merely caught a hockey bug.
“We don’t really think of ourselves as inspirational stories,” said Tabor, who added: “We work out, we eat everything that regular hockey players do. It’s just that we play with our legs strapped down.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 29, 2012
An article on Thursday about participants in the Northeast Sled Hockey League referred incorrectly to the plans of one of the players, Sara Tabor. She is considering trying out for the United States women’s sled-hockey team — not the sled-hockey team that will compete at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. (Only the men’s sled-hockey team competes in those Games.)
Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 17:20
For Young Disabled Athletes, a Chance to Glide, and Compete, on the Ice
Written by Administrator
By COREY KILGANNON
The players arrived at Lasker Rink in Central Park on Saturday morning with the help of wheelchairs, walkers and crutches. Many had to be helped into their pads and then lifted into the bucket seats of narrow aluminum sleds with skate-blades on the bottom.
Dragging them to the edge of the rink and lifting them onto the ice required real effort, but once on the smooth frozen surface, these so-called disabled players were free. They glided around, inches above the ice, chasing pucks and one another.
The players — the New York Rangers youth sled hockey team, which was started in October as the city’s first organized ice hockey team for disabled children – were facing off on Saturday against the Philadelphia Hammerheads sled hockey team on the rink on the northern end of Central Park.
“Get out there,” exhorted their coach, Victor Calise, 40, as he clapped his players on their shoulders and rapped their sleds to fire them up. Soon they were banging their sticks on the ice and chanting “Let’s go, Rangers,” with the liveliest cheers coming from Mr. Calise, the commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities.
“The whole idea is to get them involved and show them what disabled athletes can do,” said Mr. Calise, who was not driven to the game in a big city-owned vehicle with aides hovering around him. Instead, he rolled up by himself in his wheelchair an hour before the game to greet his players. He hopped into his own sled, pushed himself onto the rink and began smacking his stick on the ice shouting, “Rangers, bring it in.” He lined the players up against the boards and assigned them positions.
The team’s 18 players are 5 to 18 years old — 3 are girls – and all have limited or no mobility in their lower bodies because of injuries or conditions like spina bifida or cerebral palsy.
“Some of these kids, and their parents, never knew they could play team sports,” said Bill Greenberg, an investor from Greenwich Village whose son Sam, 9, cannot move his lower body because of a birth defect in his spinal cord.
Mr. Greenberg worked with Mr. Calise on organizing a city team to play similar clubs in the Northeast. Now the Rangers play games every other Saturday at Lasker Rink, and are scheduled to move in March to the indoor World Ice Arena in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The arena has boards, entranceways and surfaces that make it accessible for sled hockey, whose rules and equipment are similar to regular ice hockey but whose players each use two shortened hockey sticks. One end is used to handle the puck, and the other end is equipped with a sharpened tip so that the players can use them to propel the sled with arm-thrusts.
Since equipment and ice time are expensive, the Rangers secured sponsors, including the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the New York Rangers professional hockey team and the Wheelchair Sports Federation. Ice time is donated by the Lasker Rink and by the city’s parks department, where Mr. Calise worked for six years as the accessibility coordinator before being appointed to his current post in May.
Mr. Calise, who grew up in Ozone Park, Queens, playing roller hockey, was paralyzed from the chest down after a mountain biking accident.
“Initially, I didn’t want to live anymore, and I found sled hockey and it changed my life,” he said. He made the 1996 national team and began playing around the world. He played in the 1998 Winter Paralympic Games in Nagano, Japan, as a member of the U.S.A. Paralympic Sled Hockey team.
Mr. Calise does not coddle his players and expects them to play hard, like any competitive athlete. During Saturday’s game, he yelled at his squad, “I need everybody to skate harder.”
A goal by Christian Stieler, 18, of Marine Park, Brooklyn, kept the Rangers in the game, as did sharp goaltending by Eddie Friedman, 16, of Sheepshead Bay, a student at Brooklyn Tech High School who has cerebral palsy.
At one point Francisco Olivares, 10, tipped over in his sled, but once righted by a volunteer, he hustled back into the action. Francisco, a fourth-grader at Public School 291 in the Bronx, lacks mobility in his lower body because of the effects of spina bifida. He had been depressed and inactive before joining the team, said his brother Erick Olivares, 21.
“He was sitting around watching TV and just feeling very limited,” Mr. Olivares said. “Now he feels stronger, and every time he comes here, he’s happy because he’s with other kids in the same situation.”
The critical goal was scored for the Rangers by Joanna Nieh, a 10-year-old from Manhattan with spina bifida, who had left her pink crutches on the bench and was hustling on left wing. Her goal tied the game at 3-3, which was the final score.
“If they can do this now,’’ Mr. Calise said, “they don’t see their disability.”
This post has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 18, 2012
In an earlier version of this article, a caption with a photograph stated incorrectly that Victor Calise, the coach of the hockey team for disabled youngsters, was the man on the left. In fact, that man was not identified.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 19 December 2012 16:50
USA Hockey Sled Classic (NY)
Written by John Hamre
Published: 11/9/2012, 09:29 PM
Updated: 11/10/2012, 12:35 AM
Sled hockey hits the ice
Think that with the pros on the sidelines there’s no ice hockey to watch this weekend? Think again.
At Northtown Center in Amherst, players from around the country – including some world champions – can be seen checking and banging into the boards at the NHL Sled Hockey Classic through Sunday.
“Sled hockey is no different than stand-up hockey in terms of the determination, the effort, the hitting, everything else,” said Brad Roethlisberger of Green Bay, Wis., who will be officiating eight games through the weekend.
What sets these hockey players apart at first glance is that they have all lost limbs – whether from serving in the military, contracting a disease, being injured in an accident or being born that way.
So, instead of standing upright on skates, these athletes move on aluminum “hockey sleds” while fastened into plastic bucket seats, using short hockey sticks to control the puck.
For many, the sheer joy of being on the ice, competing, along with the camaraderie with fellow players, can be exhilarating.
“It’s a blast being able to get back on the ice. Hockey’s my sport of choice,” said Bo Reichenbach.
The 24-year-old Army soldier from Billings, Mont., lost his legs below the knee when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan earlier this year. Now on his way to recovery, he’s captain and goalie of the Washington Capitals, a team of players from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Timothy Hall, 23, also lost his legs in Afghanistan – in his case, after being hit by a mortar.
“When I was first hit, I didn’t think I’d be able to do that much. Sled hockey’s meant a lot,” he said.
For Steve Fortin of Wake Forest, N.C., sled hockey has fulfilled his childhood dream of playing a sport he grew up with in Maine. The father of three, who lost his left leg and hip to cancer, plays goalie for the Carolina team.
“It’s really cool, to completely understate it,” Fortin said. “Everything’s kind of worked out well,” he added. “It’s not how I planned my life, but I’ll take it at this point.”
This third national tournament features 14 teams, some as far away as Denver and Dallas, sponsored by the National Hockey League and bearing the names of NHL teams.
Three players from the Buffalo area played on Team USA, which finished first this year at the IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Norway, and also took home a gold medal at the Winter Paralympics in Vancouver in 2010.
One of them, Adam Page, was born with spina bifida, a spinal defect that renders him paralyzed from the knees down.
“Sled hockey gives me the opportunity to play the sport I love and grew up watching on TV, and to be around people just like me,” Page said.
Jeff Sauer, the national team’s coach, gives the sport added credibility. He led the University of Wisconsin Badgers to two NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey championships during his tenure, and he was honored last year with the NHL’s Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey.
“Sled hockey has rejuvenated me, because these guys are anxious to learn. They listen better than some of the pro players I’ve had over the course of time,” Sauer said.
The Buffalo Sabres sponsor three teams, including one fielded by athletes from the Veteran Affairs Medical Center.
Women play sled hockey, too.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Jackie Carter, of Hillsborough, N.C., who suffered a broken back in a car accident 10 years ago that left her paralyzed from the knees down.
Bryan Foley, whose legs were amputated after he was hit by a car three years ago, said the sport is therapeutic.
“Just the therapy alone from being around the guys, the camaraderie, is super beneficial,” Foley said. “Basically, you forget the disability when you’re out there. You’re competing at the highest level you can.”
Norman Page, Adam’s father, helps start and develop sled programs as a USA Sled Hockey volunteer so more people can be exposed to the sport and reap its benefits.
“We’ve been blessed to be able to do this and help others get on the ice,” Page said.
The tournament, which began Friday, continues from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free.
For information on getting involved with sled hockey, call 984-2585 or visit usahockey.com.