When Jessie Gregory lost the use of her legs after being hit by a car in 2008, she thought her life was over.
The accident, which caused permanent nerve damage to her legs, has left Gregory dependent on a walker or a wheelchair to get around. It ended her 14-year hockey career and dream to play for Team Canada.
“I was devastated,” she said. “The first two years after were the hardest because you think you can never do anything again. Then you meet people who show you you can.”
Those people were members of the Brant County Crushers sledge hockey team. While watching her niece's hockey game at the Brant Sports Complex, Gregory caught sight of the sledge hockey team getting ready to play.
“Sledge hockey has been the biggest help getting me out of the house," she said. "It's brought me up and made me look forward to something. It's really motivated me. I would like to try different sports now.”
Gregory plays goal for the team, helping them take first place in the Ontario Sledge Hockey Association.
Sledge hockey, invented in Stockholm, Sweden, in the 1960s, is a version of ice hockey for people with physical disabilities. Participants sit on a sledge – a narrow platform fitted with skate blades – and propel themselves along the ice with two specially designed hockey sticks with picks on the bottom. The game follows the same rules as regular hockey, with six players on the ice for each team, including the goalie.
Through sledge hockey, Gregory's dream to play for Team Canada has come true – only with a different Team Canada.
In her first season playing with the Crushers, Gregory was asked to try out for the Canadian national sledge hockey team. In late December, she was asked to join the team as one of its two goalies. She will play her first tournament with the team, defending the net against the U.S. women's national team and the European women's team, in the Women's National Sledge Hockey Tournament, to be held in Voorhees, New Jersey, this May.
“I've always wanted to play for Team Canada," Gregory said. "When I had my accident it shattered my dreams. This has brought my dreams back. Now, my dream is to stay at the national level. It's the best feeling you can ever imagine. It makes me want to work harder.”
Being on the team means Gregory will have the opportunity to travel to places like Europe and Japan playing the sport she's always loved. She keeps up her fitness by getting on the ice as much as she can and keeping her arms fit.
Gregory is a standout player with the Brant County Crushers, said team fundraiser Shirley House.
“She is the light of this group," House said. "She is always out there with a smile. Her love of hockey and her personality, it tops the list for her. She is definitely one of a kind. Her attitude about life is just amazing. She gets everyone out there enjoying the game.”
On the ice, she's a force to be reckoned with.
“She has her techniques,” House said. “She can do things to the other team to throw them off their game.”
The Brant County Crushers formed last year, bringing the sport of sledge hockey to the community. The team joined Ontario Sledge Hockey Association league play this season. Gregory is one of only two women on the team.
The Crushers will face teams from across the province in playoffs this March. On April 7, the team will host the final championship games, the Day of Champions, at the Brant Sports Complex.
“We hope to showcase our amazing arena and what our team has done,” House said. “We've come a long way and it's been a lot of work. What's important for us is that people know what else is out there for these players.”
To sponsor the Canadian national sledge hockey team, call Sandy Metzger at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information or to sponsor the Brant County Crushers e-mail email@example.com.