Injured and Disabled Veterans Use Hockey as Therapy
Playing hockey helps this group of veterans deal with physical or mental trauma from their service.
"I call it 'going to church,' because that's how it is for me - it's a sanctuary."
That is how John Kelly, a veteran and current employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, describes his Sunday morning at the ice rink. Kelly and many other veterans play on a nonprofit adult hockey team, the Pittsburgh Warriors . Every player on the Warriors is a veteran who has a disability or injury. For them, hockey is not only a way to have fun and stay in shape, but a way to cope with these old wounds.
It was my privilege to skate along with these Warriors at one of their practices to see this unique form of therapy firsthand:
After the practice, Kelly opened up to me about his Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). "PTSD is scary," says Kelly. "It plays on your worst fears, your worst inhibitions, your worst feelings. Here, I don't have to worry about that."
"It's really been an amazing thing for these guys," says Theresia Ditto, the Pittsburgh Warriors' Vice President, "to go out and get the adrenaline, get the teamwork, get the camaraderie, the structure - everything that they were missing from the military is now back in their lives."
The Warriors look to provide this outlet to any disabled veteran, whether they have previous hockey experience or not. They will even provide all the gear to a player, if needed, at no cost. They are able to do this through a partnership with the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation and other grants. In addition to fully equipping a player, they also offer clinics and skills classes. Some of the players only learned how to ice skate within the past year, but after spending 90 minutes on the ice with them, I couldn't possibly tell you which.
To learn more about how you can get involved with the Pittsburgh Warriors, click here