KIRKWOOD, Mo. (KMOX) – Sean Borah, 20, will continue to lose his sight due to a genetic eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, but his ice hockey skills will continue to grow, thanks to a new Blind Hockey program in St. Louis.
Borah wasn’t just a participant of Tuesday night’s Try Blind Hockey event at Kirkwood Ice Arena, he was the reason it came to St. Louis. A devoted Blues fan and casual ice skater, Borah found the Washington Wheelers Hockey Club, and sent them a Facebook message in May about wanting to bring the sport to St. Louis. Almost immediately Bruce Porter, sports program director at Blinded Veterans Association and founder of the Wheelers, replied and said “if you’ve got a rink available in July, I”ll be there.”
Borah then recruited Jeff and Jamie Vann, the vice president and president of St. Louis Recreation Development Group, Inc., who are devoted to brining a 100% accessible amusement park to St. Louis. Jeff Vann is a coach for the Kirkwood Youth Hockey Association, and was able to schedule the ice time at the Kirkwood Ice Arena.
Just two months after Borah asked for Blind Hockey in St. Louis, he had it.
Porter had put on similar events around his hometown of Washington D.C., in Los Angeles and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He brought large hockey bags full of helmets, skates, sticks and pads for participants to use. And even convinced one of his Wheelers players to come to the St. Louis event.
Six-foot, 4-inch defenseman Jim Sadecki traveled to St. Louis on his own dime to help teach Blind Hockey. He has been totally blind for the last 13-year of his life. He served 10 years in the Air Force and lost both of his eyes in a work-related accident after his honorable discharge.
“Skating and playing hockey is one of the only things that I felt freedom,” Sadecki says. “I’m able to do it by myself, I don’t have to hold on to anybody and I have a blast doing it.”
Blind Hockey is played with a hollow, metal puck, about an inch and a half tall, and 4-inches in diameter. It’s filled with ball bearings so it makes a lot of noise when it’s moving. Since Sadecki has no vision he stays back to protect the net and clears the puck when it’s near him, while players with more vision usually play attacking roles.
Borah didn’t play during the live game, but in drills he was always around the net, shooting pucks on frame.
“I’m no Wayne Gretzky,” Borah says.
Josh Fields, 11, had never played ice hockey, but he was one of the best players on the ice. With no sight in his right eye, and 20/400 vision in his left eye, he was still able to take the puck up the wing and put a shot off the post during the game.
“It was really cool because I’ve been waiting for St. Louis to get a program like this, and now they actually have one,” Fields says. “But I’m really sore now, it was a lot of work.”
Jeff Vann helped organize local youth coaches and players to be at the event and help teach the blind athletes techniques on skating backwards, stick handling and shooting. Luke Lochmoeller player pee wee hockey for the St. Louis Rockets, and volunteered to for the event.
“They amazed me,” Lochmoeller says. “I thought it was going to be pretty hard for them, but most of them just got on there feet and started skating around.”
Borah and Fields say this won’t be the last time they are on the ice. Which means Porter’s goal of starting a nation-wide Blind Hockey league is becoming more of a possibility. He says Chicago, Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh are some of the cities likely to be in the league, which he wants to start next year.
“And (St. Louis) has it, I’m pretty confident,” Porter says. “We’ll be playing you guys for years to come.”
Porter says the difference in St. Louis as compared to his other events was how young the participants are. In Washington, most of his players are injured veterans, like Sadecki, but in St. Louis the participants were mostly students in middle school, high school and college.
Jamie Vann says she wants to continue the Try Blind Hockey event at least four-times a year in St. Louis, and Porter says he will probably be able to come back to help with each one.