Magazine article VFW Magazine

Hockey Proves Therapeutic for Veterans

Magazine article VFW Magazine

Hockey Proves Therapeutic for Veterans

Article excerpt

Army Sgt. Kevin Higgins has been playing hockey since he was 4. So it was no surprise he was looking for ice time while stationed at Ft. Benning, Ga. Turns out, he was not the only one looking to play. That was in 2013 when Hockey Saves was born.

"One of the soldiers was having a hard time getting any ice time," said Higgins, who grew up in Massachusetts. "It's a huge expense and availability was hard to come by."

Jax Andrews, a New Yorker, happened to be in the Columbus, Ga., area caring for her sick mother. When she met these soldiers, they told her how therapeutic they found hockey.

This notion stirred something inside her. So she paid for a couple of hours' worth of ice time for the soldiers.

"It was literally supposed to be a one-time thing," Andrews said. "But I took a photo of them playing and sent it to a friend back in New York City. From there, it ballooned, and we had to incorporate."

Since then, Hockey Saves has seen a 600% growth in just two years. The organization doesn't employ people daily, but rather looks for individuals to staff events as they occur. At press time, an election for a board of directors was scheduled.

Andrews said she could relate to the troops' need for ice therapy. She took up ice skating and hockey after the Sept. 11, 2001, Islamist terrorist attacks, finding it to be a "great mental outlet."

"War is an ugly reality," she said. "So we need to make sure we help those allowing us to live these nice little lives. This is definitely needed."

Hockey Saves has about 700 participants nationwide. Pick-up games can be found i Nashville; Tacoma, Wash.; Pittsburgh; Chicago; Washington, D.C.; and Columbus, Ga. There are no set teams unless Hockey Saves participates in tournaments.

The skill levels of players range from "shoulda-been in the NHL to how do you spell NHL." In other words, Andrews says, anyone is welcome.

THERAPEUTIC'BLESSING'

Headquartered in Franklin, Tenn., the organization is a 501 (c)3 and funded solely by donations. Andrews, who now lives in Tennessee, said the vast majority of donors are individuals, not corporations.

The main expense is ice time. To get an idea of cost, ice time in Chicago during hockey season is $500 to $600 an hour.

A pilot program in Nashville is teaching troops and their spouses how to skate and play hockey. Andrews said it is important to include spouses because they are the "unheard, unseen heroes."

In addition to playing hockey, participants have the opportunity to watch professional hockey. People often donate hockey tickets to the group, which gives them to veterans and their families. In some cases, NHL players meet with the vets after the games.

When a soldier with the Tennessee Army National Guard was alerted by Hockey Saves of an extra ticket to a Nashville Predators game, he jumped at the chance.

"At the end of the game, I was completely thrown off guard," said Stan Laws, who hosts the Penalty Box Radio Show in Tennessee. "We were given the opportunity to meet some of the Preds. This was truly one of the greatest hockey experiences I've ever had."

The therapeutic effect of hockey seems to be most evident among Iraq and Afghanistan vets.

"It's not easy to adjust back into society," Nick Hoth, an Air Force veteran told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Especially when you're used to having so much structure in your life. Being around hockey is such a blessing for all of us."

Higgins, who served with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq during 2010-11 and also in Kuwait, agrees.

"This is really important because it gives us time to go out and not think about the stresses of the military," he said. …

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