Paralympic and other adaptive sports are not often talked about or mentioned, but take just as much heart and talent, if not more, to play than regular sports. One of the most popular games in Paralympic sports is Sledge Hockey. Sledge hockey is a variation of ice hockey for the disabled. Twelve players, six on each team, move across the ice on a double-bladed sledge trying to outscore their opponents and do not fear putting their bodies on the line for the win.
If you ever get the chance to watch the USA women’s team play, one of its six players on the ice will be Slippery Rock University’s Kelsey DiClaudio.
“It’s a very dynamic sport,” DiClaudio said. “It’s full contact. Many people get shocked when I say that. There is no real difference in stand up and sledge hockey other than we are sitting in sledges.”
DiClaudio said that she fell in love with the sport when she was 8-years-old. An upperclassman in her school who volunteered for the local Pittsburgh sled hockey organization saw DiClaudio and told her about.
The Pittsburgh native went through years of local and national tournaments before the USA team asked her to try out when she was 13 years old. DiClaudio said that she was shocked when she was asked but has been setting goals for herself ever since to make it to the next level and break barriers within the sport.
“Right now my goal is to get to the Olympics,” DiClaudio said. “Whether that be in two years or six years, I’ll just keep working hard for that.”
Women’s sledge hockey is not yet an Olympic sport, but that has not gotten in the way of DiClaudio’s goal. In 2014, she was the first woman ever to be named to the U.S. Men’s National Development Sled Hockey team. She said that if she makes the actual U.S. men’s team she would be the first woman to do it.
“Sled hockey is a male and female sport,” DiClaudio said. “But, since the female level has never been put on the Olympic level, a female is allowed on the men’s team, so it’s fair.”
Though DiClaudio has not made it to the Olympics yet, she already has a national gold medal. In 2014 DiClaudio and the USA women’s team won the inaugural IPC Ice Sledge Hockey Women’s International Cup. They beat Canada 5-1 and were crowned the first ever world champions. She said the experience was indescribable.
DiClaudio’s dedication to the game and ability to persevere despite her disability, not only got her recognized within her sport but led her to become a national inspiration. She was invited to the Women’s Sports Foundation 35th Annual Salute to Women in Sports awards.
DiClaudio said when she went to the award show in New York, she was overwhelmed by being surrounded by so many incredible female athletes.
“I just remember sitting there thinking, ‘I’m not worthy to be in this room with all of you’,” DiClaudio said. “It was just incredible that I was able to talk to them on a personal level.”
Despite all of her success and time spent playing the sport, DiClaudio still found a way to be successful in school. She said it was not always easy explaining to her teachers why she was missing classes since the sport was not well known, but she did her part by finishing assignments while she was on the road.
DiClaudio did so well in school, she was able to continue her education and found her way to SRU where she studies Psychology. She said she wants to be a rehabilitation psychologist. She said wants to help people who have been through tragedies and traumatic experiences.
Even though she is in pursuit of getting a degree and has a plan on what she wants to do with it, she said she is nowhere near done with her life as an athlete. As she continues to try to qualify for the men’s team and fulfill her Olympic dreams, she wants to continue to be a symbol within the sport.
“I want to continue to grow the game for female sledge hockey players in the future,” DiClaudio said. “Staying on the women’s national team, playing in more competitions, eventually getting to the Olympics, and really just putting it out there. Hopefully one day I could even coach.”
DiClaudio may not be an athlete watched at Mihalik-Thompson Stadium or in Morrow Field House, but she is one that should be recognized. She is not only influential and inspirational in her sport, but to the community as well.