ARLINGTON, V.a. (DC News Now) – Doug Gist has a genetic condition that caused him to go completely blind by the age of 30.
Growing up in the Midwest skating on frozen ponds, he never thought he’d be able to skate again after losing his vision.
“I showed up at a meetup group, and a guy walked up to me and said he was hosting a tryout event here for blind hockey,” recalls Gist. “I honestly thought he was really putting one on me. I’m like this this guy, what’s his deal?”
Gist, had to find out if it was true. “Long story short, I came to the tryout event. I only came to support. I was wearing my blue jeans, I was not going to get on the ice and they started strapping goalie pads on me and I thought, ‘What the heck,’ and they threw me out there, and then there I found out the pucks made of steel!”
The Washington Blind Hockey Club was started by a military veteran who saw the game in Canada and wanted to bring it to the United States. At first glance, these hockey players look and skate just like anyone else.
However, just like their everyday lives as visually impaired people, They play by different rules.
Kevin Brown is the president of the Washington Blind Hockey Club and is completely blind with some light perception.
“It’s just like the traditional game of hockey with a few minor adaptations,” says Brown, “and you know, it’s so enjoyable to play.”
Although, like Gist, it took a little bit of convincing at first for some of their members, like 19-year-old Sami Amaya, who has very little vision.
“This looks complicated, but I was up for the challenge,” Amaya recalls, “I like doing things that are somewhat challenging.”
The puck they play with is almost twice the size of a normal hockey puck and is made of steel. It also has particles inside it that rattle around so the puck makes noise on the ice.
“You have the noise of the puck, you have the noise of the other players,” says Amaya, “you have to like figure out how to orientate yourself through communication.”
Additionally, it is customary for teams to have goalies who are completely blind, which is why they slapped hockey pads on Gist when he first showed up to the tryout.
“It’s a lot of communication, super concentration, and visualization,” says Gist. There’s also a pass whistle, so when the past whistle sounds, everybody knows that there’s a shot incoming, so that’s what really helps a goalie.”
This hockey club is open to all ages and provides a great source of community for the visually impaired living in the DMV, they practice at the MedStar Ice Plex, on the same ice as the local pro team, the Washington Capitals.
17-year-old hockey player, Aiden McCown explains that it can feel isolating growing up a little different than other kids. Being able to relate with and play sports with other visually impaired people.
“I’ve met so many friends through this, it kind of normalizes this disability,” says Aiden. Having something like this, especially with a couple of other kids out here, helps you feel less alone.”
“Learning the communication and how to be a team player really helps you,” says Amaya, “like, not just grow as an athlete, but as an individual. It proves not only to yourself but to others that you can do anything.”
“We all have different challenges in life, and it’s just how we choose to navigate those challenges,” says Brown. The blind hockey club is just another example that you know, through some creative adaptations, we can all participate in life and feel fully engaged.”
For more information on the Washington Blind Hockey Club, CLICK HERE.