“It’s like being free.”
Brady Koehler is an athletic and bright 16-year-old sophomore at St. Dominic High School in New York. Brady has just started on a new hockey team and what makes him different than most hockey players is that he is legally blind.
Brady was born with optic nerve hypoplasia. His eyes are perfect, but there is nerve damage in the eye that causes severe vision impairment. His vision is 20/400 which means that he can see at 20 feet what someone with normal eyesight can see at 400 feet.
When he was younger, his mother, Monique Koehler, explains that it was challenging because they didn’t really understand that he had a vision problem until later on in childhood. Growing up, Brady always had to work twice as hard to keep up with his peers being submerged in the sighted community. Even on the ice with the local recreational team with sighted players, Monique could tell that he wasn’t entirely himself.
“A common issue in the blind community,” Monique explains, “is that it is difficult to find people who are close by.” Going to a sighted high school and playing on a sighted recreational team, it was difficult for Brady to have the confidence and self-esteem that he needed to reach his full potential. That was until Brady found blind hockey.
Brady has been playing hockey for four years; he is no stranger to the sport. However, Brady had never been introduced to hockey in a way that was tailored to his strengths, not the sighted.
Though the blind community is spread thin, the universe and cosmos knew that Brady needed to shred the ice with people who really got him. When playing blind hockey for the NY Metro Blind Hockey team, Brady met another hockey lover who lived right down the street who also had a visual impairment. Be it divine or be it coincidence, but NY Metro Blind Hockey gave Brady a passion and a best friend he would have never met if it weren’t for blind hockey.
Brady’s team, the NY Metro Blind Hockey team which started practices two months ago, is made up of people from all over the area. Because blind hockey teams are far and few in between, despite having a location in New York they have members traveling from New Jersey to participate. Even local competitions are difficult for the blind hockey league because of all the obstacles the blind community face when it comes to activities outside of their home. The NY Metro Blind Hockey team is making a place for the blind community to come together, so not only does Brady get to play a sport he loves, but he also gets to be a part of a group of people he would have never found under different circumstances.
Brady is one of the more advanced members (and youngest!) of his team. It is one of the places where he feels like he can really be himself, not having to explain himself to anyone, or working twice as hard to keep up with the crowd. “It’s like being free,” Brady says.
Almost everyone on NY Metro is a beginner and still learning to skate. Brady encourages anyone legally blind to fully blind to check out blind hockey. It can be intimidating to try a new sport, but Brady thinks that this sport could be for anyone who wants to do it.
“The skating part is difficult. It’s difficult to put on the equipment and then balancing and skating in general. But, if people want to try it…just try. Be brave and do it! That’s what I did, and I love it! It’s a really great sport, and I really encourage people to do it!”, Brady says. “Falling is the best part; it is so fun, you have so much padding, it’s fun. You can joke around with your teammates; it’s a really cool experience.”
Brady will be participating in his first blind hockey tournament in Tampa, Florida March 28th through March 31st. Players from around the country register as individuals and teams of even skill level will be created at the event. The teams will round robin throughout the weekend with the championship game on Sunday! If you are in Florida or have the means to come to the tournament to cheer on Brady, we would love to see you there! You can find information about the tournament on the New York Blind Hockey website.
To find out more about the NY Metro Blind Hockey, check out their website at www.nymbh.org