Wheelchair Hockey League provides opportunity for disabled athletes

NOW: Wheelchair Hockey League provides opportunity for disabled athletes

SAINT JOSEPH, Mich. -- Since 1995, the Wheelchair Hockey League (WCHL) has helped fill the desire of playing a team sport for those who are physically disabled but wish to be part of the community and live a healthier lifestyle.

Imagine wanting to play a sport that you've seen on tv and in person, but not being considered what some call "normal".

"A friend of mine plays hockey in one of the local normal leagues," said Wheelchair Hockey League participant Eric Peterson.

"When you roll into a room, you're a disabled person. But when you roll into a room of disabled people, they're just normal," says Deputy Commissioner of the Wheelchair Hockey League in Michigan.

The league has expanded from Fraser, Michigan to Saint Joseph, Michigan in the John and Dede Howard Ice Arena, and is available to anyone who needs a wheelchair in their daily life.

"Anyone can move a chair, whether it's a manual chair that you can roll yourself or if you're in a power chair," Frayer added.

Those participating have different sets of wheels and people who are born with different challenges, but nothing stops them from being athletes.

"I have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Basically, my muscles just deteriorate over time," said league participant Adam Weir.

"I have something called Arthrogryposis. So basically, my muscles didn't form correctly around my joints," Frayer mentioned.

While some players are born with disabilities, others have had life changing accidents.

"I had a spinal cord injury. So I've been in the wheelchair now since 2018. Honestly, it's been kind of hard for me where I used to be like I said, I was a really active person," Peterson said.

No matter their ability of their journey, the league has given those who thought they had no chance at being active, the opportunity to play a team sport.

"I finally have you know something to be involved in. It gets me out in my community to be involved with people in similar situations like mine," Weir mentioned.

"The benefits are just so substantial. I mean, the numbers are there. The people that play adaptive sports, live higher quality of life," Frayer added.

Then there's the natural joy sports and real competition.

"I personally have a really competitive side to me," league participant Shayne Greer-Abbott.

For Greer-Abbott expressing his competitive side is tough as he his non-verbal and has to use his cell phone to communicate with people, but not when he's playing hockey.

"This was the first physically disabled sports league that I personally had found that actually is competitive," Greer-Abbott added.

"It's the same as any other team sport. I mean, I get the, everyone sees the wheelchairs. But, I mean, we're still the same people," Peterson said.

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