San Diego Ducks sled hockey team gives veterans hope

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Ducks sled hockey team has become the fastestigrowing sled hockey team in the country.

With 25 members, many of which are disabled veterans, the adaptive sport gives these skaters a renewed sense of purpose.

"If you were to think of an action figure -- a GI Joe figure, take the legs off -- that's about where I'm at," said Jason Ross.

Ross served 13 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. On his second tour in Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED and lost both his legs.

"I was an active person and when I got hurt, not so much," said Ross. "I wasn't able to do all that stuff. I was very limited in what I could do."

Ross quickly discovered he could play adaptive sled hockey and realized other veterans could, too.

"Being on the ice, I am a hockey player again," said Sarah Bettencourt, the founder of San Diego Ducks sled hockey. "I forget that I'm disabled. I'm flying. I'm out there checking people, I'm out there having the time of my life."

Bettencourt served 7.5 years in the Marine Corps and suffers from a rare type of neurological disorder. Three years ago, she founded the team, which competes at an intermediate level in the Pacific Sled Hockey League.

"By the end of it, they're sweaty, they have a huge smile on their face and they're like that was the best workout I've ever had," said Bettencourt. "When can I do it again?"

Players say one of the biggest challenges that come with learning the sport of sled hockey is the stick. On one end, it's similar to a normal hockey stick but on the other end, it's got a metal pick that players use to propel themselves on the ice.

"It's a lot of coordination with your upper body," said Bettencourt. "Your hands for skating and stick handling and passing and shooting since everything is your upper body."

A couple of the San Diego Gulls professional hockey players sat in the sled and agreed.

"It's difficult, it really is," said Andy Welinski, a Gulls defenseman. "Your balance and getting used to the ice and the blades is a whole different experience. Being a hockey player, you kind of take some of those things for granted when you do it so often."

The adaptive sport gives many players a new kind of mission, one they say comes with a purpose.

"I'm not confined to the chair," said Ross. "I can move around and do stuff and I find it liberating."