NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — One Long Island organization has been providing a path to success for hundreds of disabled athletes for the past 21 years.
CBS2’s Steve Overmyer spent some time with the Long Island Rough Riders, a sled hockey team that gives challenged athletes a chance to be part of a team regardless of their disability.
Every athlete has their own personal story of triumph, like 10-year-old Jesse Singer who suffers from a hip disorder.
“Now this, I can play hockey and have fun and get off the ice and not be in pain, so it’s perfect,” he said.
Every athlete is there because they’ve overcome a challenge, whether it’s an amputation, or spina bifida, or cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome.
“I hope my family can see this,” Rough Rider Tommy Gillese says, “because I’m the pop star of the Long Island Rough Riders.”
The team started in 1995, and in that time they’ve won 16 tournament championships, raised nearly $3 million, and given these athletes an outlet.
“It’s a lot of fun,” team member Brett Blomquist said. “It has been so many years to be on the ice. It feels like I’m a new man, like I’m a star athlete.”
At the bottom of each stick are steel teeth, designed to dig into the ice. The players propel themselves using nothing but arm power.
“It’s away from all the challenges we gotta face on a daily basis,” Rough Rider Ray Diaz said. “We all have our challenges. We all have our ups and downs, but when we go out there we’re all just having a good time.”
Diaz lost his legs two years ago. While recovering in the hospital, he saw a sled hockey game on TV.
From that point on, a new purpose was born.
“I just knew then and there one day I’m going to those paralympics,” he said. “That’s what I’m going to do.”
Due to his training with the Rough Riders, he’s made the national sled hockey developmental team and is on the short list for a spot on the Olympic team.
The currency on the ice is the smiles on everyone’s faces.
“They come off the ice and go ‘he’s got spina bifida, he’s got Down syndrome’,” league president Bryan Blomquist said. “There are five guys, no six, in wheelchairs.”
“They’re all smiling,” he added.
The Rough Riders have a motto: “Success is measured in smiles, not in medals. Pride, not ribbons. Determination, not wins and losses.”
The team currently has a total of 51 participants. For more on how you can help, visit the league’s website HERE.