Nova Scotia

Spina bifida kept him from playing hockey. He wants to change that for other kids

After dreaming of playing hockey as a child growing up with spina bifida, Kurtis Deveaux finally got the chance as an adult when he started his own sledge hockey team.

Sledge hockey program gives people of all abilities the chance to play hockey

Kurtis Deveaux is captain of the Cape Breton Sledgehammers hockey team in Sydney, N.S. (Nicole MacLennan/CBC)

It took a bit of stick-handling, but after dreaming of playing hockey as a child growing up with spina bifida, Kurtis Deveaux finally got the chance as an adult.

In 2009, Deveaux launched the Cape Breton Sledgehammers sledge hockey team in Sydney, N.S., with his father, Steve, who serves as coach. 

Now the father-son duo hopes to launch a minor sledge hockey program to give other kids the chance Deveaux never had as a child. 

The Cape Breton Sledgehammers practising at Sydney's Centre 200. (Nicole MacLennan/CBC)

Deveaux, the team's captain, said he'll never forget the first time he got in a sledge.

"It was amazing. I was 21 years old so I spent my whole childhood just watching and not able to play, so to finally get on the ice, it was really, really cool," he said. "I had an absolute blast."

The Cape Breton Sledgehammers include players with disabilities and able-bodied players ranging in age from 18 to 72. 

JB Mellor plays centre for the Sledgehammers and was active in several sports before he lost his leg due to an injury.

'Part of a team'

"Disabled people can be a bit solitary sometimes and if you can be part of a group where you've got able-bodied and disabled people, that's a big thing to a disabled person to feel part of a team," said Mellor. "And that's the thing that I love about it most."

Thomas Odo said the team is like his second family.  

"I was born with cerebral palsy and when I was born the doctors told my parents that I would never be able to walk or talk, so being here right now is a big accomplishment for me. It's a pride aspect for me, as well." 

Thomas Odo plays on the Cape Breton Sledgehammers hockey team. (Nicole MacLennan/CBC)

The Sledgehammers are supported by a dedicated group of parents and volunteers who help out at the rink and do some crucial fundraising. Sledges can cost between $900 and $1,000.

The former Spina Bifida Association in Sydney paid for 10 sledges, but as the team grew, organizers approached businesses to buy and sponsor more sledges. The team also holds a major fundraising auction every spring. 

'Pure joy'

Steve Deveaux said all the time and effort pays off when the players take the ice. 

"That's the glory," he said. "Some of these players have never been part of a team and to watch them grow — not only on the ice, but watch them grow in the dressing room, to take them out of their shells ... and the pure joy that they get and their parents, I think it's great." 

Now the team wants to offer that opportunity to younger players as well.

The team, seen here practising at the Centre 200 in Sydney on March 17, hopes to a launch a sledge hockey program this fall. 0:45

The Sledgehammers have partnered with Glace Bay Minor Hockey and with financial support from Easter Seals, they hope to launch a minor sledge hockey program in the fall. 

Now they just need players. 

The team plans to host a meeting Saturday at 4 p.m. at Centre 200 in Sydney and is encouraging everyone who's interested to come out, learn more and sign up.

"Get in a sledge. I don't care how fast or how slow you are, we'll get you hooked," said Steve Deveaux. "The only thing we ask is that you have fun." 

About the Author

Nicole MacLennan

Associate producer

Nicole MacLennan is Information Morning Cape Breton's associate producer, responsible for pitching and chasing stories, interviewing and booking guests. She welcomes story ideas and information at nicole.maclennan@cbc.ca.