Playing hockey no longer a dream for NC athletes with mobility challenges
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RALEIGH--Playing a hockey is no longer a dream for over a dozen athletes with mobility challenges.
On the first adult sled hockey team in North Carolina, players trade in the skates for sled.
For the first time in 2012, "Triangle Sled Hockey" is now a true competitive program.
The league has the same puck, the same rules and net used in traditional hockey, but for athletes like Kris Mercer who can't lace up in traditional skates, he can hit the ice on a bucket and sled.
The team captain, Kris Mercer never thought he'd get the chance to play after losing his leg last year.
"When you first become disabled, you feel alone. I mean you really do. And you get here amongst everybody else with their disability, you gain a lot of new friends and lot of great friends that you're going to have for the rest of your life," said Mercer.
The adult competitive Triangle Sled Hockey Team started in 2011, but this year they finally have enough players to practice and compete in games.
"I just really enjoy the program and what it does for these guys who would be sitting around doing nothing if they didn't have something like this,” said JV Cotterell, founder of Triangle Sled Hockey.
Retired Marine Corp Staff Sgt. Todd Morand became a paraplegic after an injury.
On the ice, Morand and the team look past the disabilities and recognize one another's abilities.
"You're trying to help each other for the better of the unit, the better of the team instead of going out and doing something for yourself," said Morand.
Players said another major obstacle is their lack of competition.
As the only team in the Tar Heel State, their closest rival is in Virginia.
"Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Wilmington. We're trying to blow this all up. We're trying to make it huge in the state,” said Mercer.
Playing against more teams will give new players the chance to experience the thrill of taking the ice.
"I mean being disabled, not knowing there was sports out there like this and then finding them, my life's 100 percent better now than it ever was before,” said Mercer.
Win or lose, overcoming the barrier of playing hockey already turned the team into champions.
It costs about $1,000 dollars to suit up each player and the Carolina Hurricanes and other private donors cover the cost of sled hockey players equipment and travel.
The team plans to go to a tournament in New York in November.