As the women of ice sledge hockey are poised for greatness, the mystique of their efforts is the influences and the inspirations that have helped to empower them. Helping to change social norms about people with disabilities, Peggy Assinck is an assiduous individual whose love of sport and science are helping to bring benefit to others.
Making the transition from athlete into an ambassador for the sport, her most endearing quality is her selflessness. From her efforts in helping to facilitate ice sledge hockey programs for beginners to spinal cord injury research, it composes an admirable body of work.
Such character, whether it is on the ice or in the lab, represents what makes Assinck the ultimate teammate. From friendship and teamwork to the willingness to learn and understand, she is a fixture for any team she contributes to. Such efforts are a great source of inspiration, which has resulted in others reciprocating,
“I have met many people along the way that have inspired and motivated me. In my academic world, what inspires me are researchers who have dedicated their lives to helping to further our understanding of the biology behind spinal cord injury.
Importantly, this group is working towards finding treatments that might help to improve the quality of lives of people with spinal cord injuries. I only hope that I can follow their lead and hopefully someday make a similar difference.”
As the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games were held in Vancouver, Assinck’s current city of residence, her path to sporting greatness was profoundly shaped by that magical event. Absorbing her surroundings, the influence of the Swedish team proved to her that it would one day be possible for female ice sledge hockey players to compete at this level,
“In my sporting world, I have met many amazing athletes that inspire me to work harder and push my boundaries. Besides my current teammates who are constantly inspiring me, I also had the opportunity to work with the Men’s Swedish Sledge hockey team during the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic games.
I hosted their team and spent three weeks with them during their pre-training and Paralympic competitions. I was constantly impressed with their dedication to performing at the highest level, their ability to form and maintain an amazing team atmosphere, and their gratitude for the people who helped them to get to where they were.”
Her sterling dedication sets a standard, dutifully contributing to the end result of success, along with the more lasting success of respect and admiration. Such an effort was evident in another Paralympic setting. Traveling to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 edition of the Games saw Assinck’s work take on a much more profound meaning,
“In addition, I had the opportunity to travel to Sochi for the 2014 Paralympic games as part of Dr. Krassioukov team (from ICORD) who were conducting research about cardiovascular health in people with spinal cord injuries.
I had the great opportunity to meet many of the athletes from different sports and was inspired by their drive to compete at the highest level but also their willingness to contribute to our research and help drive discovery that would positively impact other people with similar injuries. Seeing that altruism from these athletes who were taking time out of their busy training and competing schedules to help us collect data was also very inspiring.”
Perhaps the most remarkable quality that Assinck possesses is courage. While childhood should be a time of fun and innocence, hers was abruptly interrupted. Impairments to her motor and sensory abilities followed, resulting in a defining moment where Assinck refused to give up,
“I was born with spina bifida (birth defect affecting my spinal cord). This mild spinal cord defect did not affect my ability to do sports until I was 11 years old.
During the time when most youth are undergoing their growth spurt years, I sustained a non-traumatic stretch spinal cord injury due to a tethered spinal cord (scar tissue building up and binding to my spinal cord so that the cord could not move during this growth period).
This left me with more substantial motor and sensory impairments. It was from then onward, that I got involved in sledge hockey.”
Although her young life endured a bad break, Assinck’s combination of determination and perseverance created good luck, positive transforming her life. It is part of an encouraging yet human story where the strength of her heart and the desire to succeed painted a much brighter picture. Through it all, she maintained a remarkable dignity.
“I had many ongoing surgeries to attempt to repair my spinal cord throughout my childhood and teen years and through all of that, my involvement in sledge hockey was probably the most important thing in my world then. It helped me to realize I could still be involved in sports and get exercise.
It gave me access to teammates who had been through similar experiences, and gave me the confidence and motivation to try and improve my skill base overtime. Those were things that helped me both in my sporting world and in my chosen education and subsequent career choices.”
Athletes like Assinck are the reasons that teams can become families. Humble yet gracious, her work in facilitating programs for novice ice sledge hockey players, to her role as a mentor for younger players on the national team weaves a proud legacy, revealing a heart of gold.
“I also help run a "learn to play sledge hockey program" through the City of Vancouver where we give people the opportunity to try sledge for the first time. This program gives the community exposure to the sport and everyone the opportunity to get to know sledge and have a fun time.
We also run a more advanced inclusive program that allows athletes who have been playing for quite some time to learn new skills and participate in weekly scrimmages. I have been involved in running this program for 4 years now and find it very rewarding.”
While hockey has always had a hypnotic hold over Canadians, the efforts of women like Assinck to grow ice sledge hockey may one day result in a “Where were you” moment, akin to Paul Henderson in 1972 or Marie-Philip Poulin in 2014, among others. As women’s ice sledge hockey hopes to one day add to this national myth, Assinck is part of a promising game filled with many possibilities, destined to hold up over time.
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Images supplied by Peggy Assinck
Photo credit (action shot): Christopher Di Virgilio