Having first competed for the US women’s ice sledge hockey in 2012, as a 15-year old attending Lake Forest High School, Nina Nissly’s athletic career has grown by a quantum leap. Among the great accomplishments involved the chance to help USA grab the gold medal at the inaugural IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Women’s International Cup, contested in 2014 in Brampton, Ontario.
Finishing the historic event with three points, Nissly would log two assists (along with Megan Hesbrough) on goals scored by Kelsey DiClaudio in Game 3 of the event. She would follow it up with a second period goal in Game 6, a convincing 6-1 win against Team Europe.
Born in Skupina, Russia, Nissly has lived with cerebral palsy since her infancy, it has not prevented her from carving a remarkable sporting legacy. In addition to ice sledge hockey, she established herself as a nationally prominent swimmer. Not only did she compete in the National Junior Disability Championships for Swimming, she also earned three medals at the IHSA Girls State Swimming Championships, where she recorded the fastest times in the 50, 100 and 200-meter freestyle for swimmers with disabilities.
Prior to such sporting glories, Nissly had gained the confidence to pursue sports through her participation in the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association. Providing sports for youth, teens and adults with disabilities, the association has been part of Nissly’s life since she was nine years old.
With the upper body strength that she acquired from all her years in the swimming pool, she was recruited by Tom Daily, a hockey coach at GLASA to give ice sledge hockey a try. Quickly learning that the sled and the blades were customized to player’s needs, it would prove to be an aspect that appealed to Nissly, leading towards a new path in her athletic endeavors,
“GLASA was where my hockey career started. I was approached by one of the program directors saying they were trying to start something called sled hockey and that I should come check it out. So, I did and from there, I fell in love with the sport.”
In 2010, she was one of 13 American student-athletes with a physical disability that were selected to attended the Paralympic Experience in Vancouver. Attending the Opening Ceremonies at Vancouver’s Paralympic Games, she also had the chance to meet members of the United States Paralympic Team.
It would set the stage to give Nissly the confidence to believe that her sporting dreams could come true. She is hoping to be part of the US roster that shall be participating in women’s sledge hockey at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games (where it shall be a demonstration sport), which would allow Nissly to provide the inspiration that she experienced as an honored guest at Vancouver 2010.
“The Paralympic experience was probably one of the most memorable experiences I have had. The whole games were really awesome. In fact, I do not think I could pick a favorite. The experience just added to my motivation to make it to the Paralympics one day, no matter what sport I end up competing in.”
Currently attending the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Nissly’s ambitions prove that perseverance, dedication and mental toughness are the elixir to overcoming any physical setbacks. The body of work that Nissly has crafted as a successful multi-sport athlete has transformed her into a role model, able to inspire both able-bodied and disabled women.
Part of a generation of women bringing ice sledge hockey into the sporting conversation, expanding the opportunities for disabled women to experience the thrill of athletic competition, Nissly feels a great pride regarding her opportunities to don the USA jersey. Reflecting on the milestone of first making the team (as a teenager), her efforts truly represents the promise of the sport and its growth, which shall allow future players the chance to experience the same joy that Nissly did,
“When I first made the team, I was really excited and honored, and I have been every year since. There is nothing like competing in different countries and the nation. I am going to play sled hockey as long as I can. This team has inspired me even more to do so.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/nissly