A few weeks after their Wildcat teammates skied in the NCAA Championships at Sunday River in Maine, University of New Hampshire (UNH) skiers Jon Parker and Ted Broderick, who are scheduled to graduate in 2012, headed to Winter Park, Colo., for the U.S. Alpine Nationals. As the Hockey East quarterfinals come to a close in Durham, N.H., skaters Taylor Chace, who is scheduled to graduate in 2010, and Josh Moran, who is scheduled to graduate in 2011, defended the home ice of the Whittemore Center against the Connecticut Wolfpack.
But these athletes are Wildcats with a twist: Parker and Broderick are missing a leg and a forearm, respectively. And Chace and Moran will sit, not stand, to play sled hockey. The four students are among seven elite student-athletes with disabilities who train alongside UNH NCAA winter-sport athletes in a program that is unique to UNH. The athlete development program of Northeast Passage, a UNH program that delivers recreation opportunities for people with disabilities, is the only collegiate program in the nation that recruits and develops winter-sports student athletes with disabilities.
In addition to its focus on winter sports (sled hockey, alpine and Nordic skiing), what makes the UNH program exceptional is its integration with UNH Athletics, Tom Carr, assistant director for outreach and athletics at Northeast Passage, said in a news release. The disabled athletes train alongside their nondisabled counterparts and have full access to Athletics’ resources, including training facilities, academic assistance and scheduling flexibility. The students receive competitive scholarships.
For Parker and Broderick, both stand-up alpine skiers, integration with the UNH ski team has been relatively seamless. During the season, they are on snow at either Pat’s Peak or Attitash Mountain in New Hampshire 2 or 3 days a week working on their racing technique.
Carr has helped them modify the ski team’s dry-land training, which includes lots of weight-lifting, to adapt to their disabilities.
Because sled hockey, in which players sit on sleds and use short hockey sticks to propel both themselves and the puck, is significantly distinct from stand-up hockey, Chace and Moran participate in weight training with the UNH hockey team but are coached by Carr for their on-ice workouts.
“We consider these elite, national-caliber athletes part of our ‘family,’” Marty Scarano, UNH athletic director, said. “Northeast Passage and UNH athletics share a vision of creating a one-of-a-kind partnership to create the best training facilities for winter-sport athletes who aspire to compete in the disabled national programs and ultimately the Paralympics.”
The collaboration is paying off.
“I’m a lot stronger, I’m skiing a lot faster, and I’m a lot closer to accomplishing my goals, thanks to [UNH ski team coach] Brian Blank and the ski team,” Broderick, a business major, said.
Like Broderick, Parker, a Bow native who is also a business major, has his sights set on the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games.
Moran, an engineering major, is aiming for the 2010 Paralympics as well as the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, which he played on for 2 years.
Moran’s teammate Chace is the elder statesman of Northeast Passage’s athletes. Captain and a consistent high scorer of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team, Chace helped Team USA win the bronze medal at the 2006 Paralympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
With the support of Northeast Passage and UNH athletics, these athletes are on their way to achieving their Paralympic dreams, although Carr notes that such aspiration takes a level of commitment akin to that of an able-bodied athlete pursuing an Olympic spot. He stresses that the student-athletes are students first.
“Even though I recruit hard and I want these students to come here, my main goal is that they go to school somewhere,” Carr said, noting that many Paralympic-level athletes must choose between attending college or pursuing their sport. “I tell them an education provides a back-up plan. Professional sled hockey? Not really a good career choice.”