Army Vet Uses Hockey to Inspire Kids with Special Needs

July 20, 2016
A cool story in the heat of summer about an Army veteran's desire to make a difference.

In case you missed it, we wanted to draw your attention to the inspiring and heartwarming USA Today story from last month about a veteran who is changing the lives of children with special needs – and his own life in the process.

The York Polar Bears are a hockey team unlike any other. Started by Army veteran Rich Garrison, the team is made up of children ages 5 to 15 that have a variety of special needs from Down syndrome to autism to partial hearing or sight.

Inspired by his own experiences with the USA Warriors, a hockey team made up of disabled veterans, Garrison and his wife started the York Polar Bears, wanting to provide a similar outlet to children with disabilities. There are practice sessions, uniforms and, hopefully this fall, their first game.

The hockey team has positively impacted the lives of the children, improving their self-esteem, balance and coordination – and giving them the chance to be part of their first team.

From the article in USA Today:

“At first, they balanced themselves on the ice by holding onto chairs or sleds made of PVC pipe or even their mentors from the York Devil’s youth program. Some cried. All of them fell down. And yet most everyone returned for the next practice and the one after that.

At home, they slept with their hockey gear and sticks by their beds and chattered about their new friends. If was as if their lives were shifting. It didn’t matter how slowly they moved or what they looked like, because they were learning a sport with others like them, and they were gaining confidence and trust. They were part of their very first team. All of them, it seemed, finding some salvation along the way.”