US National Sled Hockey player Chris Douglas helps with Prairie Grit, makes home in Minot
Living with a disability isn’t something new to Chris Douglas, a member of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team and recent member of the Minot community.
Douglas lives with Spina Bifida and suffered a spinal cord injury at the age of 11 that paralyzed him from the waist down. At 21-years-old, Douglas volunteered at Camp Boggy Creek for Spini Bifida Weekend in Florida where he was introduced to sled hockey for the first time in 2011.
“I went there as a kid so when I was old enough I went back to volunteer trying to give back as much as I could,” Douglas said.
A parent had approached Douglas and asked him to join a sled hockey program out of Cocoa Beach, Fla. Douglas was a natural on the ice and helped the Florida Bandits claim the Adult Open Championship at the 2012 and 2013 USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival.
“Everyone told me I had a good shot of going pretty far in the sport,” Douglas said. “I just stuck with it and never looked back.”
In 2012, Douglas went to the U.S. National team tryouts and landed a spot on the developmental team. Year after year, he continues to try out and, since 2013, has been a part of the U.S. National team.
Through USA Hockey, Douglas has been given numerous competitive opportunities to represent the United States. He played in the International Paralympic Committee Ice Sled Hockey World Championship in 2015 in Buffalo, New York. The team earned a
3-0 win over Canada to take gold.
Douglas has also played in three World Sled Hockey Challenge tournaments (once in 2015 and twice in 2016).
Douglas came to Minot in April chasing a job for TY Wall Systems.
“I had been in contact with Drew (Hanson, executive director of Prairie Grit Adaptive Sports) over email for the past year, almost,” Douglas said.
With the job, Douglas could stay in Minot and train while helping out with Prairie Grit.
Prairie Grit was started in 2016 by Chad and Angie Thompson of Minot to give their son, Palmer, the same athletic opportunities as their other children.
“We started with the sled hockey program,” Hanson said. “We got a big grant through USA Hockey and the Optimist Club actually helped us in getting our first sleds.”
With Douglas on the ice with Prairie Grit, Hanson said the group felt more like a team. Douglas was helping lead practices, running drills and expected more out of the group.
“He just tried out for the USA National Sled Hockey team and made the team for this year and it’s pretty cool to have somebody like that in Minot helping us out with our program,” Hanson said. “He’s just been an amazing part of our program.”
From their first interaction, Douglas was telling Hanson things about sled hockey he didn’t even know. Hanson has had two years of sled hockey experience and learning from someone playing at a professional level was something he never thought would happen.
“The very first time (Chris) and his girlfriend came to Minot, they were expecting small-town USA and they even said from the very beginning there’s so much to do here,” Hanson said with a laugh. “For a small city, they were impressed with everything and the local support that we’ve gotten from the whole community of Minot.”
Douglas is inspired by the attitude many residents have. If anyone needs help or accommodations or advice, Douglas said everyone is willing to help, which differs from where he grew up.
“Every single adaptive sports and sports I’ve never even done, I’ve been able to do with Prairie Grit,” Douglas said. “It’s kind of like a dream come true. Minot is the kind of place I would like to call home.”
Currently, Douglas doesn’t play for a team. He travels around when he can to help programs across the United States while also training to maintain his position on the national team.
“The fact that (Minot has) very influential hockey guys all around town… it’s really been one of those journeys that kind of changed my life,” Douglas said. “It’s everything most programs really strive for, but it’s so hard to get to.”
Douglas is back in Florida to help coach, but plans to be back in Minot in October, just before the U.S. National Sled Hockey team makes a visit from Oct. 11-14.
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