This is the eighth installment of our ‘Hockey Strong’ series, which will be continued throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. This month’s feature is from Dan Schramm, member US Blind Hockey Team.
Strength is often defined with regards to physical output or the capacity to withstand great physical force or pressure. The definition of the word that resonates most with me is when strength is defined as, “the emotional and mental qualities necessary in dealing with adversity.” The game of hockey is a sport that embodies every meaning of strength. Hockey is full of challenges and opportunities that make it perfect for the blind and visually impaired community. As you think about hockey, strength, and what it means to you, this idea of “Hockey Strong” comes to life. The beauty of it is there is no exact definition for it; it is open to interpretation, each individual’s personal meaning is where it derives its true strength.
For those of you who don’t know me I am Daniel Schramm and I proudly represent each and every one of you reading this, as well as the rest of our great country, as a member of the US Blind Hockey Team and it is an absolute honor. My hockey journey started when I was 3 or 4 years old with my father getting me on skates as soon as he could. Him being from Minnesota meant that learning to skate was inevitable and it got me engaged in sports at a young age, from hockey to skiing. Growing up in Colorado, especially in a small ski town, we embraced winter sports and endured cold snowy weather to do what we had such a passion for. I played competitive hockey until I was about 14 years old. That’s when I was diagnosed with Stargardt’s Disease.
This came as a great shock to me and was totally crippling as I began to think about my future – of not only high school, but the rest of my life. I reacted as any teenager would; I was in disbelief and slowly began to withdraw from the world around me. Up until that point, I had this goal and dream of being a fighter pilot for the United States Air Force. A prognosis such as mine did not bode well for my inner aviator and that dream quickly shattered, not even a glimmer of hope that it might be a possibility in my lifetime.
The downward spiral from there was fast and intense as I thought through changes to other aspects of my life, like driving, future relationships, having kids, and providing for myself. The list went on forever it seemed. When high school hockey tryouts came the following fall, I had to accept that the game progressed into something too fast and physical for my eyesight to handle at the time. Don’t get me wrong, in youth hockey I missed my fair share of passes, receiving passes, shots and received a few nasty hits. At that particular time in my life, I simply was not ready for that kind of game – not to mention that the talent level of players our valley had was superb and that alone would have been a challenge to overcome without vision challenges. I decided to take a break from competitive hockey to focus on school, building friendships and discovering new passions in life. I slowly started realizing with my lack of eyesight, how important my other senses were becoming. I started using my sense of hearing to help me get my bearings down in different environments (however, good hearing didn’t mean I was always a good listener – my parents can attest to that). My sense of taste and a newly discovered passion for food and the kitchen helped guide me to where I am today.
Throughout high school, my early twenties, and even up until very recently, I have struggled to cope with my loss of eyesight. Life was/is scary and full of obstacles to overcome and situations I have to adapt to, however that is just one side of the coin. It is important to realize there is so much more to life than just our challenges. It is full of people who support us, love us and give us the strength to push forward even when times get tough. I started playing hockey again when I was 16 on my dad’s men’s league team. I never lost my passion for the game and embrace every moment I get on the ice – I just thought my competitive career was over. I was asked to join the US Blind Hockey Team about two years ago and up until then, I literally thought I was the only person with an eyesight disability that played hockey. Boy, was I wrong! It made me realize how much I had sheltered myself and let my lack of eyesight drive my loneliness and the negativity in my life in general. Discovering blind hockey truly was a life changing moment for me. I began to realize why I loved being on the ice so much: every time I stepped out, I felt as if my disability just disappeared.
As I reflect today, I recognize how much hockey is a rock in my life. All of the skills and team aspects have trickled into my life more than I ever thought possible. “Hockey Strong” means dealing with adversity on and off the ice. In our community of the blind and visually impaired, we can relate to that on a much deeper level. It takes more than physical strength to get through a hard game or a new challenge in life; it takes mental fortitude. It takes the strength of our teammates on the ice and that of our family and friends off the ice. “Hockey Strong” is something that keeps growing with you. It is wanting to challenge yourself when times get tough. I have never been embraced with such open arms like I have been by the blind hockey community. Until now, I never knew how much the strengths of hockey transcended into my life. It made me a great employee in my professional life, more specifically doing jobs no one else wanted, much like going after the puck in the corner knowing you might run into a freight train. It allowed me to be a better friend as I began to treat my friends more like my teammates in life, trusting them when they speak up or having their back in the toughest of times. Let “Hockey Strong” be a guiding light for you when life gets hard; just know there is someone like you struggling with similar parts of life and know that Team USA is working hard to be an inspiration to each and every one of you on and off the ice. There is so much to gain from life if we remain “Hockey Strong”.
Whatever “Hockey Strong” means to you, let it drive your passions on and off the ice. Don’t be afraid to achieve something others said you couldn’t do or shouldn’t do. Let it be your inspiration to be a better version of yourself. If there is something I have realized in having an eyesight disability, it is HOW capable we are; all of my teammates and individuals I have met and will meet in the blind community have achieved so much in life and are my sources of inspiration. We are capable of so much and can be that shining light for other people if we stick together and show them our strength. The road is not always smooth and straight but finding the strength to tell your story might help the road trip of life become more worthwhile. Keep spreading the word about blind hockey in the hope of finding more individuals like us and show them what it means to be “Hockey Strong”! I encourage each and every one of you reading this to pursue your life’s passions with drive and intensity of a puck battle along the boards. Never give up.
Fitness Tip: One area I am working with on my physical fitness is flexibility. Stretching can help prevent injury or help with the soreness from a hard game or workout. I also use the time I spend stretching to release the tension that is in my mind. It can be used to decompress from a long day at work or school and does not require much space. Being more flexible is something I encourage all skaters to put on their radar. It can help lengthen your stride, which means more power, speed and control.