Feb. 15, 2018

Danish team visits UCalgary to strengthen adaptive sport partnerships

International collaboration helps youth with disabilities get more out of their activities
A team from the Sport for Brains program at the Elsass Institute in Denmark visit the Olympic Oval ice to learn how to play sledge hockey from UCalgary student Elysa Sandron, centre. Rasmus Hjorth Petersen, left, and Camilla Voigt plan to take their new passion for the sport back to Denmark and introduce the activity to youth with cerebral palsy. Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute photos
A team from the Sport for Brains program at the Elsass Institute in Denmark visit the Olympic Oval i

The experience lasted only an hour on the Olympic Oval ice, but everyone who participated agreed that playing sledge hockey is special.  There’s nothing like hopping into a sled on blades that takes off speeding and spinning down the ice to give you a heart-pumping thrill.

“I absolutely loved it,” says Camilla Voigt, who along with her colleague Rasmus Hjorth Petersen co-ordinate the Sport for Brains program at the Elsass Institute in Denmark, a renowned centre dedicated to improving the lives of people with cerebral palsy. 

  • Rasmus Hjorth Petersen, left, and Camilla Voight, right, are pictured above with UCalgary student Elysa Sandron, centre.

They accepted an invitation to visit Alberta as an opportunity to forge collaborations across multiple community organizations and the Vi Riddell Pediatric Rehabilitation Research Program led by Carolyn Emery, PhD, a physiotherapist and sport injury epidemiologist in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Cumming School of Medicine (CSM).The visit was arranged by Dr. Elizabeth Condliffe, a physiatrist in the CSM who recently visited the Elsass Institute as part of building her research program.

The Danish team was particularly interested in trying their skills at sledge hockey, a sport that is rarely played in their homeland. “Denmark isn’t a winter country, and we haven’t seen or used this sport equipment in our family programs before,” explains Voigt.

Sledge hockey, an adaption of ice hockey for participants with a physical disability, is a rapidly growing sport and one of the most popular events at the Winter Paralympic Games, which begin March 8 in PyeongChang, South Korea. “What we’re learning here at the Olympic Oval ice is that we could pursue this very inclusive activity for our families and children back home,” adds Petersen. 

The Danish team for adaptive sport and the Calgarians take a few trips around the Olympic Oval ice to get the full experience of playing sledge hockey. Student Elysa Sandron (in yellow Dinos hoodie) is launching a camp, which will include sledge hockey, for youth with disabilities this summer.

The Danish team for adaptive sport and the Calgarians take a few trips around the Olympic Oval ice.

Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute

Student gives visitors insight into sledge hockey

Helping these visitors today learn about sledge hockey is Faculty of Kinesiology master’s student Elysa Sandron, who is benefiting from a week of collaboration with the Sport for Brains team. Sandron is launching a camp for youth with disabilities at the university Aug. 20 to 24. The camp will feature about 10 activities including adapted climbing, dance, karate and of course, the very popular sport of sledge hockey.

Sandron exudes enthusiasm for the upcoming camp she’s planning. “I have always identified with sport and I want every young person to have the same opportunities that I’ve had in my life,” she says. A member of the Dino’s rugby team and a volunteer with the Calgary Sledge Hockey Association, which  provided the equipment, she understands the benefits an active life brings to healthy living.

“We want to improve our programs for young people participating in them so that they get the best experience, which translates into life-long health for social, mental and physical well-being.”

Building the camp into her graduate program, Sandron will explore barriers and benefits of adapted sport for youth with disabilities from the perspectives of youth and their parents or guardians. The project and the summer camp are supported by the Vi Riddell Pediatric Rehabilitation Research Program. The organizers are now accepting registration of interest. The camp is running in partnership with Active Living in the Faculty of Kinesiology, one of the largest and most diverse recreation departments based on a North American campus.

Danish team determined to establish sledge hockey after experience

Back at the ice, the two Danes climb into the sledge equipment, buckle the straps and grasp the hockey sticks, somewhat awkwardly at first. But it doesn’t take long to become a passionate advocate for the sport.

After the test run around the oval track, the duo fully relax into enjoying the thrill and reluctantly pull off the ice when the hour is over. They say they are committed to introducing this experience to youth with disabilities in Denmark and endorse sledge hockey as a "must try" for everyone. For Sandron and the team of researchers and clinicians, that’s a good start for this visit and a springboard for further collaboration.   

Carolyn Emery, PhD, is a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and the departments of paediatrics and community health sciences in the CSM. She holds the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation Chair in Pediatric Rehabilitation and is the Chair of the Sport Injury Prevention Research Centre, one of ten International Olympic Committee Research Centres in Injury and Illness Prevention in Sport. She is a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, Hotchkiss Brain Institute, O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health in the CSM.

Elizabeth Condliffe, PhD, MD, is a clinical assistant professor in the departments of clinical neurosciences and paediatrics and a member of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and Hotchkiss Brain Institute in the CSM.