Among the women that play hockey, a group of players quickly gaining momentum are the courageous competitors who grace the ice as sled hockey players. While awareness of the sport begins to grow, various countries are icing their own national women’s sled teams.
Proudly competing for the US national women’s sled team is 16-year-old phenomenon Kelsey DiClaudio. Raised in Pittsburgh, one of America’s great sports cities, DiClaudio, who lives with tethered cord syndrome, is a shining star, competing among a generation of players ready to bring the game to newer heights.
Competing with the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins, a men’s sled hockey club, her efforts are helping to break barriers in the nascent sport. As an accomplished player in the men’s game, DiClaudio was invited to the 2014-15 US National Development men’s sled hockey roster. Pittsburgh teammate Nevin Gray joined DiClaudio as the only other Pennsylvania-born player on the roster.
As a side note, she attended the 35th Annual Salute to Women in Sports back in October 2014, testament to her impact in the sport. She reflects on her first exposure to the sport eight years ago,
“When I was eight years old, I was a student in the second grade. A girl in the eighth grade, who went to my school, would help out with the local sled hockey organization in Pittsburgh. She noticed that I was disabled, so she told my mom about sled hockey. So, I went down to try it, and fell in love with it!”
With a career that would eventually culminate with a spot on the US national team, it was a tremendous point of pride for DiClaudio. Having traveled to Norway in September 2013 to compete, DiClaudio and her US teammates swept Team Europe. DiClaudio would lead all competitors with nine goals and four assists.
Considering that the US national women’s sled team head coach is Shawna Davidson, DiClaudio is playing for a woman who helped break barriers in women’s hockey a generation ago. Of note, Davidson, who competed with the University of New Hampshire, competed in the first three IIHF Women’s World Hockey Championships (1990, 1992, 1994), earning the silver medal all three times.
With the objective to include women’s sled hockey as part of the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games (location to be determined); DiClaudio would only be 24 years old. She could follow in Davidson’s legacy and help establish herself as a cornerstone for the US sled team. Of note, the opportunity to don the US jersey for the first time was certainly a defining moment for DiClaudio,
“I remember the first time I wore the USA jersey. It was only for a practice, but it was like a legit jersey, with the string ties. It was almost surreal. It is such an honor to be able to represent my country. Every time I put on that jersey, I still get chills.”
One of the most important aspects of the sport is that it helps to allow disabled individuals a chance to experience the essence of athletics, defined by camaraderie, dedication and sportsmanship. “What I enjoy most about the sport is probably the team aspect, and how sled hockey can be so graceful and beautiful, yet so intense.”
While the men’s version of the sport has been contested at the Paralympic level, it is a key goal for the women’s game to be contested at the same level very soon. Several of her teammates from the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins, such as team captain Dan McCoy earned gold at Sochi 2014, while assistant captain Josh Wirt claimed gold at Salt Lake 2002.
The opportunity to emulate her teammates and experience the same gold medal glory that was bestowed upon them would be a remarkable achievement. For world-class competitors such as DiClaudio, it is certainly the next great sporting frontier that teammates and rivals alike, dream of reaching,
“If women’s sled hockey became a Paralympic sport, it would mean everything to me. It would be an indescribable feeling to be able to go the Paralympic Games and be able to represent my country on a world stage.
My team and I have worked so hard and we have one dream in mind. That dream is to get to the Paralympic Games! I get goose bumps just thinking about it.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Photo credits: Dan Hickling and Michael Loccisano (Getty Images)