Among the great efforts to increase awareness about women’s ice sledge hockey, the WISH Project is one of its most admirable. An acronym for Women’s Ice Sledge Hockey, the goal of WISH is to help expand the sport across the Pacific, laying down roots in Japan. As the sport shall also be among the demonstration events at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the presence of an Asian-based team would help generate interest while simultaneously build momentum.
Launched by Eri Yamamoto MacDonald and Keiko Kimura Middleton, their collaborative efforts are part of a great sporting movement, embodying the spirit of sportsmanship. A native of Japan, Yamamoto MacDonald has very close ties to the game. Born with spina bifida, her first exposure to sport occurred in the swimming pool, competing at various swim meets.
Having resided in Edmonton, Alberta for several years, Yamamoto MacDonald was a member of the Canadian national women’s ice sledge hockey team. Finding a colleague and mentor in Tara Chisholm, who would later serve as the national team’s head coach, she was exposed to the sport at its grass roots level in Canada.
Among her career highlights, Yamamoto MacDonald competed at the inaugural 2014 IPC World Championships, hosted in Brampton, Ontario. She would also participate at an exhibition event in Buffalo, New York, where the national team had the opportunity to wear authentic game-used jerseys from the Canadian national women’s stand-up team.
In attendance with Kimura Middleton at the national women’s ice sledge hockey team’s training camp in the Ottawa suburb of Stittsville, it was a great chance to help raise awareness of a noble cause. Although the growing efforts of Yamamoto MacDonald means that she cannot compete with the Canadian national team this year, she still had the chance to share some ice time with her teammates,
“I played on the ice in the intrasquad games at the camp, but my role here was to let people know that we are trying to establish a team in Japan. I am really happy about Project WISH and I feel that the Canadian team is wishing us on to make it happen. As I will be heading to Japan soon, I am still so sad about leaving this community and environment.”
Although there is an existing men’s team in Japan, many of the competitors are in the twilight of their careers, jeopardizing the sport to fall into the doldrums. The presence of a women’s team would be essential in energizing the sport and building momentum towards an empowering future.
Attempting to recruit disabled women into the sport may also prove to be a powerful way to build self-esteem, as the sport may help to dissolve social barriers and/or misconceptions about the disabled. Kimura Middleton shares her love for the game and the positive outcomes that she hopes can occur,
“Eri and I love the sport so much and we want to raise awareness. Getting the chance to see the US women’s team play, we know that people support the team. To see their families and the community involved, it is fascinating.
It is the type of sporting community that we would like to establish in Japan. Compared to Canada and the US, many disabled in Japan do not play sport. We want them to know that they can play as well.”
While recruiting players and educating others about the sport shall be key challenges, a significant obstacle to overcome is access to ice sledge hockey equipment. Outside of North America and certain parts of Europe, equipment is very rare, practically non-existent in numerous parts of the world. With shipping costs a significant factor, the acquisition of equipment becomes an arduous task.
Taking into account that hockey equipment at any level of play can be expensive; the financial aspect becomes part of an emotional investment into the sport. For those potential players with no experience in the sport, such costs may become a source of discouragement. Compounding such woes is the fact that individuals suffering from a disability may suffer from limited financial means, unable to work, enduring hardships due to various costs, including medical.
Currently, a drive is in place to gather donations of equipment, which shall be managed by the WISH project for use in Japan. As raising awareness about said drive is a grass roots cause, utilizing word of mouth and generating momentum on social media, the end result would mutually benefit all parties involved.
The opportunity to donate equipment, subsequently laying the foundation for a national team would be reciprocated by increased growth for the sport, along with expanding competition. With aspirations of becoming an official Paralympic sport, the ice sledge hockey community will only be able to see such dreams reach fruition through an increased number of players.
Equipment required includes sledges, gloves, sticks, helmets, along with protective equipment for the shoulder, shin, neck and elbows, among other needs.
For more information on The WISH Project, please visit: http://sledgejapanwomen.strikingly.com/
Further detail on equipment donation can be obtained at: http://sledgejapanwomen-equipment.strikingly.com/
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”