Kids vs. police in sledge hockey game

Vincent Ball

By Vincent Ball, Brantford Expositor

Public spaces have become more accessible to those who use wheelchairs and other devices but there's still a long way to go, says a three-time paralympian and gold medalist.

"There's no doubt that we've come a long way, no question about it, " Paul 'Rosey" Rosen said Sunday during a visit to the Tricenturena in Waterford. "But a couple of weeks ago, I went to a concert in Toronto and I was in the balcony. There wasn't any washroom up where I was and the building didn't have an elevator."

The concert hall venue is an old building, Rosen said.

"But still, this is 2017 and we should be able to do better."

Rosen was the goaltender for Team Canada's sledge hockey team at the 2006 Torino Paralympics when the team won its first gold medal. He was also the goaltender when the team competed in Salt Lake City in 2002 and at the Vancouver Paralympics in 2010.

He was a member of the Team Canada squad that won the bronze medal in sitting volleyball at the Rio Parapan Ams in 2007.

Rosen retired from competition following the Vancouver Paralympics and is now a public speaker. He was in Waterford on Sunday to speak to participants and fans attending the annual South Coast Special Needs Kids versus the Norfolk OPP Auxiliary Police hockey game.

Rosen, like many other Canadian kids, had aspirations of playing in the National Hockey League and, at 15, he was well on his way. He was playing AAA midget hockey when he broke his leg in 14 places.

His dream of playing in the NHL died and Rosen endured numerous surgeries over more than two decades. His leg finally gave out in 1997 and he required another 14 procedures over 18 months.

In 1999, he was told by a doctor that he had to chose between having his leg amputated above the knee or dying within months.

After the amputation, he says his perspective on life changed dramatically and he became a member of Canada's sledge hockey team.

During his visit to Waterford on Sunday, Rosen met with players, parents and coaches prior to the game and allowed people to hold his gold medal.

"I'd really like to get rid of the 'dis' in disability," Rosen said when asked how he would like society to change. "I'd really like to see us focus on the abilities, rather than the 'dis.'"

Kyle Chambers is one young man who has already taken Rosen's message to heart.

On Sunday, Chambers, 16, a student Hagersville Secondary School, suited up for the South Coast Special Needs Kids and their annual game against the police.

"They've never beaten us and I don't think they're going to be us this year either," Chambers said with a smile. "It's always a big game for us.

"This is the one game each year where we play someone else. Usually we just divide up our own team to play a game."

Chambers, who has cerebral palsy, needed some help from his dad Scott to get around the ice.

"My right arm is a little weak but I do really well with my left," Chambers said. "I've got a pretty good shot, I can get it high and hard.

"But mostly, I like passing, supporting others and helping them score goals."

When Chambers isn't playing hockey and going to school, he practices karate and has represented Ontario at national competitions.

The South Coast Special Needs Kids versus the Norfolk OPP Auxiliary Police hockey game was founded by Const. Jeremy Renton eight years ago.

"On most Sunday's there are only a handful of people in the stands to watch these kids play," Renton said. "But for this game, the stands are full.

"This is a great way to showcase the skill of these players and help people realize that any kid can play any sport."

The Southcoast group gives kids the chance to play other sports, as well, including golf, baseball, basketball and bowling.

In addition to the hockey game, the event collects donations of food, which are then delivered to local food banks.