This editorial was written by Laurie Steinecke, mom to Blake Steinecke. Blake is a member of both the US Blind Hockey Team and Anaheim Ducks Blind Hockey. Laurie and her husband, Bill, have also worked alongside Blake to help grow the sport of blind hockey in their area, including building the Anaheim Ducks Blind Hockey program.
I was born in Canada and moved to the US when I was 12. When I met my husband he said, “You are from Canada – you must like hockey.” I said, “I do not,” as my experience with hockey was getting carted back and forth to the rinks many an early morning for my three older brothers’ hockey games and practices. To me, hockey meant sitting somewhere in a cold rink while playing and entertaining myself until the boys were done.
Fast forward to today and my attitude is much different.
My husband, Bill, and I have two boys – Dylan and Blake. Their experience with hockey started with roller hockey in elementary school, and then we started the roller hockey team at their middle school and then at the high school. It was a great experience; both Dylan and Blake played and Bill coached. We had some wonderful times and I started to love hockey because of these experiences.
In the summer of 2015 at the beginning of Blake’s junior year in high school, Blake started to notice some vision loss in one eye. Thinking nothing of it, we went to a doctor for it which started a journey we could have never imagined. After months of testing and ruling out many diagnoses, Blake was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder – Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, which causes a loss of central vision and left him legally blind. We had never heard of this condition and did not know anyone visually impaired.
Being that this was all occurring during one of the most academically intense years in high school, we had to quickly accept the diagnosis and then figure out how he was going to carry on and live his life with this new challenge. Blake definitely gave us the example to follow. His strong faith was the first thing that shone through. He never complained and we plowed forward together. We knew nothing of adaptive technology and the things he would need to be able to stay on track in high school. With the help of his wonderful teachers for the visually impaired (TVIs) and technology, and many nights of him and I working together, he finished his junior year and the rest of high school with a 4.0 GPA and passed all of his Advanced Placement (AP) tests!
At the onset of his diagnosis, I connected with someone whose son has the same condition. She told me about the various sports that are available to those who are visually impaired. When I heard about blind hockey, I was curious thinking this might be something we need to hear more about. At the time, Blake was still playing on his high school team. With the help of my husband and other coaches, he was able to continue playing roller hockey throughout high school. I connected with Matt Morrow, the head of Canadian Blind Hockey, and he invited us to come to San Jose for a blind hockey event. That was was in 2016, and Blake has been loving blind hockey ever since.
Blake and I have had some wonderful memories traveling together to blind hockey events in Montreal, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. I cherish those memories and the time we spent together. I consider his teammates friends of mine and our family as well.
To be on the US National Team has been a source of pride and has brought Blake so much joy. To be surrounded by so many amazing examples, to have teammates to look up to, to be there for and to listen has made the experience of Blake losing his vision so much different than had he not had these people in his life.
I am so thankful for the impact blind hockey has had on Blake, and what our family has learned from the sport and his teammates. We are working on growing the sport in Southern California and have been working with the Anaheim Ducks to get a program started here.
When we have our children, we have no idea what the future holds for them. We just know that we will be there for them no matter what is in store. The first thought when someone is faced with a diagnosis that is life changing is that doors will be closing, opportunities will be eliminated, but this was definitely not the case for Blake.
I feel truly honored to have been a part of his journey. To have the opportunity to have been alongside him, to listen, to support him, to share in his struggles, challenges and his dreams is a privilege for certain. Somehow, I never took on the “why did this happen” attitude, but instead, “this is what we’ve got to deal with, so we will.” I have learned so much from Blake: how not to let little things become big things, the importance of laughter, of faith. Together we have continued to cherish the time and count our blessings. We have always been a Christian family, but Blake’s diagnosis and reliance on his faith in God has been an example that we continue to try to follow.
Being a mom has been the greatest experience of my life and what I have learned from my children has been something I never would have anticipated. As a mom, we learn to put our kids’ needs above ours and do our best to guide them as they grow. We never know what we are capable of, but if our children need something, we do not hesitate to be there to love and support and be there for whatever is needed.
This was not the path I ever imagined, but here we are, and we are stronger for it and hope to continue to be the example for others to follow. We will continue to let our light shine, enjoy each day, and count our blessings.
So now if someone says, you are from San Diego and you like hockey? I will say, “most definitely, yes!”