Bill Bogdan and RIC Blackhawk Sled Hockey Teammates Travel to Japan
CCDI Board Past President Bill Bogdan traveled to Japan in November as a member of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) Blackhawk sled hockey team.
The RIC Blackhawks were invited by the Japanese Sled Hockey Association
to take part in the 8th Annual International Friendship Games for the Disabled in Okaya.
and nine of his
teammates made the 13+ hour journey beginning on November 11th and returning home on the 17th.
"We played a total of seven games while we were there," said Bogdan
The RIC Blackhawks skated against Team Japan in the remaining two games and Bogdan
said victory didn't come quite as easily for the team then.
"Team Japan is made up of the best players from Thunderbirds and Ice Burns," said Bogdan
"Those guys are the ones who will compete in the Para-Olympics."
The games against Team Japan were low scoring defensive battles for the RIC Blackhawks who won the games by a close score of 2-1.
Several of the RIC Blackhawk's regular players are regarded as some of the best players in the world and they have competed repeatedly as part of Team U.S.A.
is fairly new to the sport though.
started practicing with the team in November of 2002.
said it was the first time he
had ever been on the ice and it was both frustrating and exhilarating.
"It takes determination and lots of practice.
I wanted to throw in the towel many times," said Bogdan
never had a chance to play competitive sports as a child.
"They had little league teams and stuff like that, but they never really even recorded strikes or anything," said Bogdan
Bogdan (34) was born with a cancerous tumor on his spine and as a result has used a wheelchair most of his life.
has participated in individual sports like SCUBA diving and hand cycling, but this is his
first team sport.
In 2002 Bogdan traveled to Norway with the RIC Blackhawks shortly after joining the team.
skill has improved a lot since that trip and earlier this year he
was named RIC Blackhawk Rookie of the Year.
played in four of the seven games in Japan and scored his
first goal in international competition.
describes the trip to Japan as a once in a lifetime opportunity.
teammates spent a lot of time on the ice, but they did get to experience a lot of Japanese culture too.
"Even though I was in a wheelchair, I was still expected to observe Japanese customs like removing my shoes when we got back to where we were staying," said Bogdan
This custom presented a whole different set of challenges to his
teammates with prosthetic legs.
The team had an interpreter with them most of the time, but there were several occasions where Bogdan
found himself trying to communicate with locals who didn't speak any English.
"After one game the Japanese players invited audience members down from the stands to try out the sled hockey equipment," said Bogdan
"Me and a couple of my teammates helped them teach kids sled hockey for about an hour.
I don't speak any Japanese so it was pretty interesting to watch me trying to explain how to play this game."
On a brief site seeing tour Bogdan said there was a mix of accessible and inaccessible locations, not unlike most cities in the U.S. In his professional life Bogdan serves as Disability Liaison to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White.
photographed several accessible parking spaces in Japan.
"You never know, maybe there is something we could learn from how they do their parking," said Bogdan
"The hospitality and respect from the Japanese people we experienced was just awesome," said Bogdan
"Sometimes you hear the stigma about how people in other countries shun people with disabilities, but it sure didn't seem to be that way there."
Unlike the U.S.
says the government helps fund the Japanese sled hockey teams.
In addition, there is a fee of about $30.00 U.S. dollars every time they go to practice at the rink that the players are expected to pay.
Practice usually happens once a month.
says RIC Blackhawk players are expected to try and raise money for the team throughout the year, but for the most part everything is funded by Blackhawk Charities.
The RIC Blackhawks have a rigorous practice schedule of every other Saturday and every Tuesday night.
Practice takes place at the Winnetka Ice Rink late in the evening into the early morning.
It is not uncommon for players to be there well past 1 a.m.
"We take the ice time whenever we can get it," said Bogdan
is impressed by the dedication of many of his
"Some of them are driving up all the way from St. Louis and Iowa every other week just to practice," said Bogdan
doesn't expect to try out for the U.S. Para-Olympic team, but he
does plan to stay involved.
"It would be an honor to play for the United States, but that is a huge time commitment I just can't make," said Bogdan
Earlier this year he
wife Laura had their first child, Hannah.
"People with disabilities need to stay active," said Bogdan
acknowledges that sled hockey is probably not the sport for most people, but there is something out there for everyone.
It's just a matter of finding it.