As the sport of women’s ice sledge hockey continues to make inroads throughout North America and Europe, fans are introduced to a remarkable group of women that continue to inspire. One such woman that is beginning to make her mark on the ice is Laurie Wood.
A mass communication specialist 1st Class, she would unfortunately suffer a paralyzing injury from a 25-foot fall in April 2012. Having served as an instructor at the Norfolk Deputy Sheriff Academy, she was also a veteran with the United States Navy. She served four years of active duty while spending 14 years in the Naval Reserve.
Having grown up in New York State, Wood now calls the state of Virginia home. Wood is currently a part of the USA Warriors ice sledge hockey program, she was first introduced to the sport after a chance encounter with a coach in Colorado.
“Last winter, I attended the DAV Winter Sports Clinic in Snowmass, CO. where they offer several adaptive sports to try. I brought my brand new sled with me because they provided a seating clinic there and I had no idea how the sled should fit.
Anyway, during the sled hockey portion I met one of the USA Warriors coaches, Mike Vaccaro, who invited me out to play on the team with them for a 3 game weekend against the Women’s National Team.
I played one game with the Warriors, then the Women’s team coaches, Shawna Davidson and Rose Misiewicz, invited me to play the last two games with them. I just kind of ended up on the team after that weekend.”
Competing with the Challenge Team at the Virginia Beach Hockey Club, there was a strong naval connection. Founded by Navy Commander Ryan Croley, the opportunity to allow disabled individuals of various ages to participate would have a positive impact on Wood’s life.
In addition to helping Wood recover from her injuries, it has also helped her bond with her son Gavin. Having been at her side through her journey as a hockey player, it has transformed her into an empowered individual, currently serving as the Challenge Team’s captain.
While Wood’s efforts on the ice helps to provide encouragement for other disabled women to engage in their athletic dreams, there are also a group of individuals that have helped to provide similar motivation. Wood pays tribute to those that have been a positive influence in her career.
“There have actually been two people that have been a positive influence and huge impact on me. My brother, Lenny Wood, who got me involved with sled hockey to begin with.
I had just gotten home from the hospital and could not seem to get my butt off the couch because I did not think I could really do much of anything anymore. He pushed me to go try sled hockey with Virginia Beach Hockey Club, which was a new program just starting. (I was the second person on the team)
He and his twin brother, Larry, bought me my first set of sticks so I did not have a choice but to go and to stick with it. The first time I was on the ice, I was hooked.”
Of note, the other person that Wood cites as having a positive influence is Christy Gardner, a former winner of USA Hockey’s Disabled Athlete of the Year Award. Another empowering woman with proud military ties, Gardner is also a member of the USA Warriors ice sledge hockey program.
“The other person is Christy. I first met her and the rest of the women’s team over that three-day weekend, but she was emailing me and encouraging me even before I actually met her. After that weekend, she invited me to attend tryouts for the team which was a few months later.
I really did not think I had a snowball’s chance of making the team and wasn’t going to go. I figured since I was still pretty new to the sport that I would try out the following year instead so I would have more time to train and learn. I just did not feel that I was prepared.
Christy would not hear of it and just kept encouraging me to go because as she said, “You never know unless you give it a shot”. Needless to say, I am so glad I followed her advice since I am now a member of this incredible team, surrounded by so much talent! She is consistently pushing me to my full potential and I have become a much better player because of it.”
In a time span of less than four months, the two would share in a pair of memorable hockey milestones. The duo would contribute to the United States capturing the gold medal in the inaugural IPC Women’s World Ice Sledge Hockey Championships.
Wood would accumulate a pair of assists, the first coming in Game 3 vs. Europe. Of note, Gardner and Wood would team up on her second assist, both earning the helpers on a goal scored by Susan Kluting during Game 6.
In addition, the two would build on their gold medal glories by earning the chance to grace the ice outdoors as part of a remarkable career milestone during New Year’s 2015. All members of the USA Warriors program had a special opportunity to be on the ice at Nationals Park in Washington. This was two days before the NHL’s Washington Capitals would host the Chicago Black Hawks in the annual Winter Classic.
Getting the chance to be part of an outdoor match themselves, featuring members of the USA Warriors, it was a rewarding and exciting time. An added bonus included the opportunity to meet NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly along with several members of the Black Hawks and Capitals, respectively. For Wood, to be able to share the opportunity with Gardner was a treasured one.
“It was a rush to skate out there next to Christy and others on the team; sharing the ice with the NHL players I’ve watched on TV countless times. It was incredible to look up and see Nat’s stadium surrounding us- (even though I’m a die-hard Yankee fan!)”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”
Image obtained from Facebook