It’s a fast and furious game and not for the faint-hearted. You’re sure to receive knocks and bruises and there’s a fair amount of drama involved. Welcome to the world of inclusive sled hockey.
And at the helm of this club locally, Kylie Forth, a world champion sailor from Perth who enjoys adrenaline, both on and off the water. Kylie was just three-years-old when she lost her eyesight to a rare form of cancer called Retinoblastoma. Six years later bone cancer meant she lost her right leg as well.
Now at 33 she’s expanding her sporting interests. While she still sails competitively, Kylie is also the vice-president of the WA Inclusive Skating Club (link opens in new window) which meets during the winter months at Cockburn Ice Arena.
Sliding into a new sport
The sports lover is throwing her energy into creating a sled hockey team here in WA to play competitively on a national scale. She’s the perfect person to muster up enthusiasm as she believes if you really want to do something you can break down any barriers.
“I’m a dare devil and a great believer in trying new challenges. What I’m really keen to do is debunk any myths that people who are blind are dangerous on ice. If you’ve got good mobility skills and have use of both your hands then this could be the sport for you,” explains Kylie.
Kylie believes sled hockey is ideal for people with all disabilities, those who are amputees, paraplegics, anyone who has mobility issues or sight loss. In sled hockey players sit in specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades. There are two shortened ice hockey sticks which are not only used to hit the puck, but also help players to propel themselves.
“Ideally I’d like to get an audio puck for the game because I can’t see and obviously it would help, but having said that it’s still an easy game for anyone with a vision impairment or disability. It’s fast-paced so I can navigate my way around, I can hear everyone, and people are knocking and banging the sticks so you kind of know where the puck is.”
So living in a state which has zero snow, how did she learn about it? It turns out it was the Americans who kick-started her enthusiasm.
Crossing continents – American influence
It was a fellow sailor who spoke of a big annual event in the Colorado Hills which might interest Kylie. Ski for Light is held in the Black Hills of South Dakota. People with vision impairment and disabilities experience skiing on the slopes with guides.
“The only time I ever come across snow was when I was 15-years-old and visiting Cumbria in England, so I was quite excited at the prospect of participating in a true winter sport,” explains Kylie.
Her first foray into the Ski for Light was in January 2018. The four-day event receives plenty of support through volunteers and sponsorship. It’s affordable with each person receiving plenty of support. Every year there’s around 120 participants, 70 of these are blind or have vision impairment.
“I was hooked instantly. I was paired with a guide and tried 3-track skiing. This is for standing skiers who ski on one leg with two outriggers (or crutches). I also tried bucket skiing which is like sled skiing, you sit in a bucket which is fixed to either one or two skis.”
Kylie’s guide would ski just a few metres away and the two would be in constant communication. Both Kylie and her guide had blue tooth headsets, with a microphone and ear piece incorporated into ski helmets to make contact with each other.
“You’ll fall over a lot you can be sure of that. However, the feeling of achievement is indescribable, it’s like no other experience. You think to yourself ‘Gosh look at me!”
Encouraging more participation with sled hockey
This year Kylie’s third trip coincided with Ski for Light’s 41st year anniversary. The event was at the end of January before the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s a great experience and is both exhilarating and tiring, but is certainly addictive.Kylie Forth
“This year I got an extra three days with paraplegic instructor, Alma Stewart ahead of the event. He devoted time to help me establish better techniques and broke everything down bit by bit,” adds Kylie.
“This extra time made all the difference as it helped with confidence. Alma was really very generous with his time and I am so grateful his instruction.”
Following on from her skiing experience she discovered the sled hockey group which existed more or less on her doorstep at Cockburn Ice Skating Ring. Now in her new role as vice-president of WA’s Inclusive Skating Club, she’d like more people to get involved.
“The season is now underway, coronavirus has held us back, but once we’re through that we want more involvement. It’s not just about the sport but also the comradery, the social aspect of it.”
If it’s something you’d like to experience why not come and try it? Jump onto WA’s Inclusive Skating Club Facebook (link opens in new window) page and send them a message.
Improve your fitness
Sport is something we’re passionate about at VisAbility. You may have visited our Exercise Clinic and played goalball in Handa Hall at the Perron Centre in Victoria Park. Amidst the current coronavirus outbreak, you’re being invited to experience virtual exercise with our team of trained therapists? Get involved today.