Among a group of multi-sport athletes that compete for the US ice sledge hockey national women’s team, Kelly Lavoie brings maturity and a remarkable athletic breadth to the roster. Equally skilled as a wheelchair basketball player, her desire to succeed helps set the tone.
Competing with her club team, the Connecticut Wolf Pack in the Northeast Sled Hockey League, Lavoie is part of an encouraging group of women that compete among their male counterparts, holding their own on the ice while gaining respect for their efforts. Enriching the experience of being a member of the Wolfpack roster is the fact that she is joined by fellow teammates Karen Smith and Rachel Grusse.
Lavoie’s athletic journey has taken on a more profound meaning with the inclusion of their friendship. It is much more meaningful than any number of gold medals or championships that one could every hope to attain.
Of note, Smith was one of Lavoie’s teammates when the US captured the gold medal at the inaugural IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Women’s Worlds in 2014. Grusse made her debut with the US national team in 2015, participating in a three-game exhibition series against Canada in Buffalo, New York.
Like Lavoie, Grusse has also played on the hardcourt, participating in wheelchair basketball, the first sport where the two became teammates, playing for the Connecticut Spokebenders. Other teams they compete against include the New York Nets and the New England Blazers. Earlier this season, they also played employees for the Hospital for Special Employees as part of a fund raising drive, extending their presence as sporting humanitarians.
“I have known Karen for several years. Rachel and I met when she started playing basketball with me. Both of them are good friends of mine and I can count on them for anything. They help motivate me when I need it. They are great teammates, and even better friends.
Without them, my life would be much different. It is great to be able to be on the Wolfpack together, and to see them achieve goals they have set for themselves, as well as have them be happy for me when I achieve my goals. We push each other to do better. That team would be a totally different experience for me without them.”
Among the leaders on the US National Team, Lavoie has been bestowed the honor of serving as an assistant captain. Although it stands as a great source of pride in her career, she has reflected on it with great perspective. Acknowledging another that provides leadership on the squad, it is testament to her team-first approach,
“The designation of team captain belongs solely to Erica Mitchell, and frankly there is no one better suited for that position. I have been the assistant captain. That in and of itself has been an incredible honor. Being on this team and knowing that I represent not only myself, but my family and friends, and my country is unbelievable to me.
I dreamed when I was younger of going to the Olympics, but did not ever think that was attainable, especially after I became disabled. Now, it is very possible. However, to be able to be seen as one of the leaders of this team holds a special place in my heart.
It is awesome to know that my coaches and teammates think I am "worthy" (for lack of a better word) to represent them in the way in which an assistant captain should. I am honored to be part of this team, and I am humbled that my coaches believe in me that much to name me assistant captain.”
Sport has not only helped transform Lavoie into a role model, it has proven to be a source of comfort and self-esteem, simultaneously serving as a form of athletic therapy. Truly a blessing in her life, sport plays the role of redeemer, providing her with rejuvenation. Considering that the importance of women’s ice sledge hockey continues to have in New England and other regions of the United States, the contributions of competitors such as Lavoie only enriches the sporting landscape.
“Sports have always been a part of my life ever since I was as young as five. Anytime I was frustrated or in a bad place, sports would always be my comfort. It was definitely my saving grace.
Now, sports can be considered my life savior. My disability is progressive, so I do not know what my ability will be from one day to the next. When I was diagnosed, my doctor strongly encouraged me to continue to play sports because that would help keep my muscles strong, and may even slow my progression. I am happy to say that I have not had a major progression in over six years, and I do attribute that to sports.
Sports have also given me opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. I was able to travel to many different states, to Canada, England, and even Norway. They enabled me to meet many people from different cultures and lifestyles. Perhaps the biggest thing sports enabled me to do was to meet my husband (who was playing wheelchair basketball at the time I started). I cannot imagine my life without sports, and I am going to continue to pursue sports for as long as I can.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
With Team USA: Photo by David Butler II, Hartford Courant
With Connecticut Wolfpack: Photo by Todd Blosser