By GAGE LEBLANC
Sledge hockey is a worldwide paraplegic sport known as the equivalent of hockey for individuals with disabilities.
While sledge hockey has been in the Paralympic games since 1994 for men, women have never had a chance to show their own skills in the sport, until now. Women’s sledge hockey is scheduled to be a demonstration sport in 2018 and an official sport in the Paralympic games in 2022.
“My dream is to represent Canada at the Paralympic games in sledge hockey,” says Christina Picton, the captain of the women’s sledge hockey team and a graduate of Niagara College.
“This dream is particularly challenging because women’s sledge hockey is not a medal sport in the Paralympics, due to a lack of female teams across the world. Plus, we are not funded by Hockey Canada or any major corporate sponsor.”
At a young age, Picton was diagnosed with a deficiency affecting both legs, leading to multiple surgeries, including the amputation of her lower right limb. However, her disability has never stopped her from performing at her best.
Originally playing wheelchair softball when she was 10 years old, she moved on to sledge hockey after hearing about the sport from her fellow players.
When Picton first started playing she says she loved the fact her disability was unable to hold her back, and the fact that she was being able to carve her own path in the world of sports.
“When I first started playing, I loved that when I got on the ice my disability was of no concern,” she says. “Everyone was equal on the ice and legs play no part in your ability to play the sport. It is a very freeing feeling for me!
“To this day that’s still a major reason I love the sport, but I also just love the game of hockey and I’m very fortunate that being involved in this sport has opened a lot of doors for me and I’ve met other amazing people and athletes through playing.”
Janice Coulter, president of Woman’s Sledge Hockey of Canada, had only positive things to say about Picton.
“Christina Picton is an amazing athlete and role model. In addition to being an exceptional sledge hockey player, she also assists with coaching on her local club team, the Niagara Thunderblades, and is a mentor to developing sledge hockey players.
“Christina also advocates tirelessly for women’s sledge hockey and volunteers her time and skills as a graphic designer for Women’s Sledge Hockey of Canada.”
“Christina is a huge part of the Canadian team,” says Jessie Gregory, goaltender for the Niagara Thunderblades. “She is an amazing captain, leader, teammate and friend, both on and off the ice. She always helps, encourages and inspires all players in our sport, no matter their age or skill level. She is awesome with growing our sport as well, always trying to get new players out, educating people on our amazing sport.”
The sport not only influenced her life physically but also her mental outlook.
“Sledge hockey has influenced so many aspects of my life. There are obvious ones like staying active and leading a healthy lifestyle, which is huge. Then there’s the fact that I’m a part of a whole community of athletes and people that I wouldn’t have been a part of if I didn’t play.
“The people I’ve met that have persevered through injury and different disabilities definitely humbles me and changes my outlook on life. Sledge hockey has been a major part in me developing into the strong, confident woman I am today. It’s developed my leadership skills and it’s toughened me up immensely.”