Ice hockey team go from strength to strength after OT’s Breanna ‘pucks’ in
Boosting diversity in an up-and-coming Paralympic sport is the name of the game for one University of Northampton (UON) student.
Breanna Wagner is studying for an MSc in Advanced Occupational Therapy, but for the past 12 months has combined her OT knowledge and skills and her passion for ice hockey and increasing diversity and representation by supporting a new team.
The GB Women’s Para Ice Hockey team launched in October 2021. There are 25 players from across the UK, all with a wide range of disabilities and ability levels. Aside from the opportunity for fast-paced, full-on contact sport, players can also increase their friendship network.
Since its inception, Breanna has helped the team go from the ‘subs bench’ to gaining international recognition as their Equipment Manager. She explains: “Ice Hockey is a sport that’s growing in status in the UK compared with my home country Canada where ice hockey where it has been long-established.
“It’s great to see ice hockey growing here in the UK, but there is a lack of representation. It’s under-represented and some people aren’t aware of how great the game is and the opportunities to participate, so it’s great to help promote this as I help the team.”
Occupational therapy supports people to live their best life at home, work and everywhere else by helping them overcome challenges going to work, doing something like brushing your teeth, or taking part in sports.
Breanna is on hand at every camp, putting her occupational therapy expertise into action to ensure each team member plays to the best of their abilities. She continues: “Each player is different and unique and want to play as independently as possible. I work with them and Peggy Assinick (the team’s founder and Head Coach) to make sure the players have specialised sleds that are custom made for them. It’s my responsibility to make sure the equipment is adapted to each player.
“There are volunteers who provide other support for the team, and some haven’t worked with people who have a disability before. We work as a team to be inclusive and give the best well- rounded expense to everyone, so they all bring something important to the team. It’s not just about improving their game, it’s about the players getting on the rink, enjoying their sport, and getting as much out of the experience as possible, exactly what good OT is all about.
“They have just completed their first International Paralympics Committee sanctioned event, which is a massive deal for women’s sport, and their next tournament is in Toronto in January. I could talk forever about them as they are amazing, especially when you consider how much they have achieved in such a short space of time.”
Dani Watts is part of the leadership team and talks about how they benefit from Breanna’s expert guidance: “We are one fierce set of determined women who might hit the odd speed bumps, but our resilience as a team drives us to achieve our goals.
“Breanna has helped me believe in myself as a paraplegic woman and for every team member to achieve independence in sport. Our equipment can challenge us, but Brenna’s knowledge of OT and her passion for the sport confirms our confidence and independence. We all have so much respect for her.
“As a team, we can’t see Brea not being a part of us. We have confidence that our team will be at the forefront of future winter Olympics. That’s our team’s big goal, but just as importantly, we’re about growing the women’s game. Sport is a great rehabilitation tool for adaptive athletes, and we see that in what Breanna is doing with us.”
For more about GB Women’s Para Ice Hockey, see their Facebook page.