Slovakia has produced many hockey greats over the years, including Stan Mikita, Peter Bondra and Marian Hossa. But sledge hockey, a variant of the sport played on ice sleds (or sledges), is not widely known here. At least not until U.S. Paralympic gold medalists Lonnie Hannah and Bradley Emmerson showed up to promote the sport they love while also advocating for disability rights.
With assistance from ECA’s SportsUnited program, Embassy Bratislava hosted Lonnie and Brad in Slovakia for a visit that took them from the capital of Bratislava, to Banska Bystrica, and to Dolny Kubin – the home of Slovakia’s National Sledge Hockey Team.
Throughout their program, the envoys spoke with hundreds of young Slovaks in high schools and at ice rinks about how sports changed their lives. “I met someone who introduced me to adaptive sports,” Hannah told an audience in Banska Bystrica, “and I found out I could do anything I wanted to do, I just had to do it a little bit differently.”
In Dolny Kubin, Lonnie and Brad trained with the Slovak National Sledge Hockey team and presented them with a check for $10,800 to purchase sledge hockey equipment. The envoys also conducted an exhibition during a Slovak Champions League match in Liptovsky Mikulas attended by 2,500 fans, visited the National Rehabilitation Center, and met with Slovak Paralympic athletes.
During the visit, the Slovak Hockey Association and the Slovak Paralympic Committee signed an MOU to formalize their cooperation and expand interest in the sport.
With their engaging style and gold medal attitudes, Lonnie and Brad opened minds across the country to the challenges people with disabilities face, and to the great things that are possible when societies become just a bit more inclusive.