Canada vs. USA hockey – the rivalry is just as intense when the sport is sledge hockey and the athletes are on the national Paralympic team.
Dr. David Legg took his Personal Fitness Trainer students to Winsport recently to watch a game and tour the training facilities for disabled athletes. The visit was part of the Special Populations General course in the two-year PFT diploma. The course broadens students’ awareness of physical activity as it affects special populations, including the disabled.
“We came to the McPhail Development Centre at Winsport to tour the elite facilities for training the Paralympic sledge hockey team. That’s about as elite as you can get for disabled athletes,” says Dr. Legg. “We watched the second period of the Canada-US game. These are the national development teams.”
“Seeing these athletes play international-level sport helps the students to understand how much disabled athletes can achieve,” he says. “Many disabled athletes have far better physical fitness levels than the general population.”
Sledge hockey made its debut at the 1994 Paralympic Games in Lillehammer. The game is fast-paced and physical and is growing in popularity for both players and sports fans.
Instead of skates, players are strapped into sleds fastened atop two hockey skate blades. Players carry two sticks, about a third of the length of a regular hockey stick, with a metal pick on one end to propel themselves.
A few days before, some of the PFT students had the opportunity to try sledge hockey themselves, including Jonathan Robinson.
“It was quite challenging,” Jonathan says. “It’s very fast and physical. You get kind of cramped being strapped into the sled when you’re not used to it.”
Paul Gray is the self-declared oldest student in the PFT program, having come to it after years in an office environment. He hopes to help older adults be more physically active and live healthier lifestyles. “These athletes are impressive,” he says. “We played wheelchair basketball at MRU last week. It’s a lot harder than it looks.”
Bringing the joy and power of sport to people with disabilities has been David Legg’s life work. He currently is a Professor in the Bachelor of Health and Physical Education at MRU where he teaches Adapted Physical Activity and Sport Management.
He earned his PhD in Sport and Recreation Management from the University of Alberta in 2000. He was named as one of Calgary’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2003, received the Gary McPherson and King Clancy Awards in 2012, and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013. He has given over 100 professional presentations and published over 100 articles in a variety of journals.
As a volunteer, David is the past president for the Canadian Paralympic Committee, and past board member for the 2015 Pan Parapan American Games in Toronto. Presently, he serves on the Leadership team of Canadian Sport for Life, and on the International Paralympic Committee’s Sport Science Committee, among many other Calgary and Alberta based initiatives.
“I’ve always cheered for the underdog,” says Dr. Legg. “There’s something about people who go the extra mile, that have to push themselves to the limit to succeed, that really reminds me of why I love sport.”
— by Karen McCarthy
— photos by Krystal Hurt