While the New York sporting scene may be dominated by the likes of Derek Jeter, Eli Manning and Carmelo Anthony, a remarkable competitor known as Sara Tabor is not only helping to shed the spotlight on the Big Apple’s female stars, but providing a positive message of encouragement. Having helped the United States national women’s ice sledge hockey team capture the gold medal in the 2014 Women’s Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships, it was part of another unique chapter in American hockey history.
Having grown up in the hockey hotbed of Minnesota, Tabor grew up rooting for the Minnesota North Stars and later, the Minnesota Wild. Heading into the 2013-14 season, Tabor was one of three new players to make the team, joining Susie Kluting and Laurie Wood. The discovery of her chance to be able to don the USA jersey was one that saw two worlds collide,
“When I found out I made the team, I was at work, and accidentally yelped out loud in my quiet office! I was so excited and stunned; I really could not believe it. I didn’t try out for two years because I wanted to be sure of my skills, as well as my ability to commit to a high level team.
It was such an amazing, exciting happiness when I did make it, because it made the hard work since learning to play so incredibly worth it. The team has been so welcoming, the coaching is phenomenal, and I’m so honored to be a part of making history.”
Competing with two predominantly male-dominated teams in the New York area, Tabor is able to hold her own while representing a new generation of American women such as Kelsey DiClaudio break ground in the game. Getting involved with the game looking for more competitive excitement, she has become a key member on the rosters of the New York Rangers Sled Hockey Team (co-sponsored by the NHL club) and the Long Island RoughRiders Sled Hockey Teams.
Of note, she is not the only female competitor in the Northeast Sled Hockey League. Other women include the likes of Kristina Vaughn (NY), Christina Gardner (USA Warriors) and Rachel Grusse (CT Wolfpack). With regular season games contested one Sunday per month at the Newington Arena, near Hartford, Connecticut, one of Tabor’s great accomplishments in the league was the chance to win the inaugural Connecticut Cup, sponsored by the Hospital for Special Care.
“I play on two other teams, which can be really exhausting, but has really brought up my skill level since I moved from Minnesota two and a half years ago. Both the NY Rangers sled hockey team, as well as the Long Island Roughriders sled hockey team, are male dominated, but the women are gaining traction in the sport!
The men don’t care that you’re female – once you’re on the ice, you’re either a teammate or a competitor, simple as that. I believe women on sled hockey teams step up and show their competitive side, as well as their capability to play at any level, which makes the men respect us as equals.”
Among the men that she competes with in the NSHL, her boyfriend, Larry Minei, is also a teammate on the Rangers team, providing encouragement and support. On February 6, 2014, the two experienced a remarkable milestone as they participated in a scrimmage against the Philadelphia Sled Flyers at iconic Yankee Stadium.
In addition, Tim Jones, who helped the United States capture the gold medal in men’s ice sledge hockey at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games, is also a competitor in the league. With the female edition of the sport poised to become a demonstration sport at the 2018 Pyeongchang Paralympic Winter Games, Tabor is hoping that she can emulate Jones’ golden performance from Vancouver,
“The trends shown by USA Hockey over the past 15 years, shows the increase of women playing hockey, and that includes sled hockey. The sport has grown exponentially since its inception, and in particular, the last five years. The women on the USA team make special care to welcome any women to the sport, and into their local teams. I’m happy to share that there are women and girls in the two New York based programs that love the sport, and work to become the best in the country.
The USA women’s sled team though, it’s something very special. There is a very cool sisterhood with the other ladies that is so valuable. It strengthens us as role models for new women into the sport, because we have such a strong core at the national level. We push each other to do better each time we see each other, we keep up on each other’s lives when we’re away from each other, and we encourage each other to do our best on and off ice.”
Part of the Raw Beauty NYC Project, it was a chance for Tabor to shine while highlighting the growing fact that women are now participating in ice sledge hockey. Raw Beauty NYC was an innovative visual arts project that became a love letter, paying tribute to a group of disabled women whose ambitions are helping to challenge cultural norms.
As the awareness of women in the disabled community continues to grow, this collaborative effort between http://www.mobilewomen.org/ and the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation showed how women such as Tabor were not letting the challenges of being disabled have negative connotations on their lives,
Debuting at New York’s ACA Galleries on September 20, 2014, the Raw Beauty NYC exhibit was also a fund-raising effort, looking to finance research while improving the quality of life. Incorporating the elements of photography and biography, it culminated in a group of photographers working with 20 women, among which Tabor was proud to participate,
“I was asked to do the Raw Beauty NYC Project, and I immediately wondered how I could incorporate sled hockey into my shoot! I worked with a photographer friend of mine, and we came up with a game plan. I wanted to emphasize beauty in strength and intensity, two values essential for hockey players. It was actually very difficult – I kept forgetting to smile while I was actively skating!
The photo I chose, however, I think really brings forward the idea of beautiful, strong, and intense adaptive athletes. When I finally saw the finished product at the gallery opening in Manhattan last fall, I was so happy with the result. What’s really cool is that the Project is going to physical rehabilitation centers across the country, displaying all of the photos of the models from the Project.
I hope it empowers newly injured women to continue with their lives, and to feel bold, strong, and beautiful.”
While life in New York may present the occasional challenge with regards to accessibility (finding wheelchair friendly subway stations in some of New York’s boroughs can be a challenge), Tabor approaches it with the same vigor that has made her a valued teammate on the ice. Unable to walk without leg braces or crutches, daily commutes to and from work consists of the use of a wheelchair.
Professional life in New York involves Tabor being just as dedicated to her work as her sport. She works as a security product development director, overseeing the creation of a new software product. She’s employed by an infosec startup that focuses on securing small and medium businesses’ IT departments.
She also devotes time to non-profit organizations, helping to renovate their websites. Balancing the obligations of career and competition, Tabor also sandwiches in time as a mentor for a youth team. Accompanied by her boyfriend, the two give back to the game in a special way that helps to show youth that sport can not only help integrate them into society but teaching them that although they may suffer from a physical disability, their minds are not, and they have the power to harness positive thought with remarkable results.
“The most rewarding part of being a mentor for youth and new players is that moment they get on the ice – that freedom and fun that’s written all over their faces. My boyfriend and I are very dedicated to getting people onto the ice, and our spare time is usually filled up with matching equipment and teaching skills to players.
For kids, it’s a freedom from a wheelchair (or other assistive devices), being able to play with their peers, and work to become better athletes. With newer teen or adult players, making sure they are well equipped, teaching them bit-by-bit the game, and watching determination grow. I had fantastic mentors and coaches while I learned to play with the Minnesotan sled hockey team, and try to pay it forward to new players.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Raw Beauty Photo credit: Jeremy Sailing
Other images supplied by Sara Tabor