John F. Russell: Sled hockey player sets an example for everyone |

John F. Russell: Sled hockey player sets an example for everyone

He may have lost the use of their legs, but every day Corey Fairbanks proves that an injury can’t stop him for making the most of life.

Over the years, I’ve covered many disabled sports from Paralympics skiing World Cups to regional ice hockey teams, and in the process have met all kinds of athletes who are faced with a disability. The one thing I’ve discovered is that the disability rarely defines who these athletes are, or what they can do.

In my experience, it doesn’t matter if these athletes choose to slide down the face of a mountain in a sit-ski or slide across the ice of a skating rink in a sled to pursue their goals, they deserve our respect. Not because they are making the most of their life, but because they refuse to let a disability stop them from experiencing life.

In the eyes of many, they may seem handicapped by their disability, but in the heat of competition, the limitations they face in their everyday lives seem to disappear faster than a plate of cookies in an office break room.

These athletes are no different than other athletes. They are competitive, they are out to prove that they can play at an elite level and they are dedicated to the sports they love. The only thing that makes them different is the equipment they use to play the game.

Thanks to new technology the list of sports available is always increasing. In the summer, disabled athletes are competing in a number of sports including archery, cycling (including downhill mountain biking), equestrian, soccer, judo, canoeing, power lifting, rowing, sailing, shooting, swimming, table tennis, volleyball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis, just to name a few. Winter options include Alpine skiing and snowboarding, ice hockey, biathlon, wheelchair curling and ice sledge racing.

On Friday evening several members of the Colorado Avalanche Sled Hockey team came to Steamboat Springs and reminded us all that every athlete faces challenges, but it is the way we face our own limitations that will decide if we win of lose. Something tells me these athletes don’t understand the words — “I can’t.”

Take the story of Corey Fairbanks.

Fairbanks was a top prep football player who was given the chance to walk on to the University of Nebraska football program back in the late 1980s. He was in top physical shape, and sports were something that he had always excelled at until a freak skiing accident in 1990 left him paralyzed.

He admits to being angry at first, but eventually, he found his way back to sports and back to life. He started playing wheelchair tennis, but when he got the opportunity to play a team sport, he found that sled hockey was more his speed.

Today, Fairbanks is the executive director of the Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation and a member of the Colorado Avalanche sled hockey team. He considers himself lucky because he was able to run and play sports when he was younger, and now, he wants to make sure that children born with disabilities have the same opportunities he had as a child. So he encourages them to try as many sports as possible, and he does his best to get them involved in team sports.

Fairbanks doesn’t have time to feel sorry for him because there are way too many things he wants to do. He is a great example of how a person who has suffered an injury has found a way to adapt to the situation. Sure he still has to face his disability every day— which can’t be easy — but he isn’t about to let his injury stop him from living a full life and setting an example that everyone can look up to.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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