To kids with disabilities,
In our culture, there are stigmas surrounding people with disabilities. People may doubt what you can do or what you can achieve. But my mom showed me why I shouldn’t worry about other people’s opinions.
Born with Spina Bifida, a congenital disability where the spinal cord doesn’t fully develop, I have been in a wheelchair since I was a kid. Like any parent, my mom still wanted me to get the most out of life and my childhood, which led her to introducing me to one of my life’s passions – hockey.
My mom first took me to see a hockey game at the old Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo. The wheelchair seats were always against the boards. Whenever a puck hit the boards, I remember how loud it was and how it would rattle back onto the ice. Immediately, I fell in love with the pace and the excitement of the game.
I wanted to play, but I didn’t think I could because of my disability.
My mom discovered sled hockey, which is hockey people with disabilities can play. We sit on a sled and use our upper body to make plays and move around the ice. Since there was no team in Western New York, I initially played in Fort Erie, Ontario. Eventually, my mom started a local team. First, it was called the Niagara Challengers. Now, it’s the Buffalo Sabres Sled Hockey team.
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I love sled hockey and I even had the opportunity to try out for the Paralympic team.
In December, I will be 40, but my mom’s example has stayed with me through the years. Today, I am an entrepreneur. Some people may wonder how that is possible, but I want you all to know that with a little creativity and determination, whatever you want to do is possible.
One of my businesses is a publication, Full Access Travel, where I review restaurants in terms of how accessible they are for people with disabilities. Since I have first-hand knowledge of our needs, I can help educate you and your families about where you can eat out and feel a sense of normalcy.
I also created a company where I set up an annual expo, which brings together companies/organizations that sell products or host activities for people with disabilities. Sometimes you, or your parents, won’t know exactly what’s available to you. I want to make sure all of you can utilize all the resources and opportunities available to us.
One time at the expo, a pair of grandparents learned about a product that is equivalent to a mini wheelchair. It’s for young children. That product gave the grandparents a way for them to watch their disabled grandchild at their own home.
It gives me so much pride and joy to be a part of creating a more inclusive and accessible world. But the reality is there still might be people who doubt me – people who don’t even know me but think my dreams are not attainable or that opportunities can’t come my way. There may be people who think the same about you.
In the moments you encounter negativity, I want you to remember my journey and the lesson that my mom taught me. By starting a sled hockey team, my mom showed me that even when you don’t see the opportunity you want, you can create it.
You got this! Use your imagination, stay positive and enjoy life!