Tupper Lake prepares to welcome Empire State Winter Games

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 6:50 PM EST
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TUPPER LAKE, N.Y. (WCAX) - The Empire State Winter Games will be back this year after missing last year because of the pandemic. Tupper Lake will host the sled-hockey games for the first time. Kelly O’Brien headed out to the ice to learn more about the sport.

Practice is underway at the Tupper Lake Civic Center. “It is exciting for everybody, the participants, and the community,” said Tupper Lake Mayor Paul Maroun.

“This is as much a tradition in the Adirondacks and the North Country as the Olympic Games are,” said Jon Lundin, an organizer for the event.

Nearly 2,000 athletes will be in the Tri-Lake area for the games. That includes sled-hockey athletes Randy Gollinger and Rachel Grusse.

“I wasn’t born disabled. I actually got injured in combat in Iraq. I lost my right eye and my right leg,” Gollinger said.

“I became disabled at 16 months old because I got a bacterial infection because. I was born without a spleen,” Grusse said.

Both athletes share a love of being active and had the same hesitation to first get on the sled. “No intentions on doing it. I’ll just kind of fetter the routine. ‘Oh, absolutely. I’d love to try it.’ I was kind of forced into it but I’ve never looked back,” Gollinger said.

“It’s very freeing and it’s very empowering as well because I’m able to do things that I wouldn’t standing up on my prosthetics in skates,” Grusse said.

Sled Hockey started in the 1960s and shares the same rules as hockey, but the player is strapped to a sled with pair of blades on the bottom. Each player uses two sticks with metal ice picks on the bottom to navigate the ice. “My favorite part is checking, so I like hitting people,” Grusse said.

Each team has six players on the ice and the teams can be made up of disabled and able-bodied players. It became a Paralympic sport in 1994 and entered the Empire State Winter Games just five years ago

Trying out a sled, it’s easy to see how the sport takes talent. It’s also a great reminder that when you fall down, you get right back up.

The games start on February 3rd in Tupper Lake.

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