Katelyn Kaechele, a 7th grade student medically diagnosed with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), amblyopia, visual field loss, and epilepsy, stepped out on the ice for the first time as a new member of the Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey Team in September. She sat down with Doris Donley for the November 2020 issue of the USA Blind Hockey Brief to discuss her experience and what it means to have this opportunity to play blind hockey.
Q: How did you find out about The Chicago Blackhawks Blind Hockey Group?
A: My mom found out about this opportunity from friends in a group called Vision Parents Empowered of Chicagoland. She saw a Facebook post of some of their kids during their first practice of the 2020-2021 season. Wishing we had known about it sooner, she figured she would give it a shot and see if we still might be able to join. We got connected with Coach Mike who got us set up in less than a week.
Q: What was your response when Mom asked if you wanted to give it a shot, learn to skate and play hockey?
A: Um, yeah! And then I grabbed my iPad and searched for a video on how to put on hockey gear. I couldn’t wait for Saturday [practice] to be here.
Q: What was it like getting fitted for all the gear?
A: It was really cool and took awhile because there is so much gear to wear. My favorite part was getting the skates because seeing how they feel in person was different than just watching the video and different than my rollerblades. I was also super excited to have the possibility of getting my own Blackhawks Blind Hockey jersey. I was telling everyone at school I was going to join a group called Blind Hockey that is supported by the Blackhawks and USA Hockey.
Q: Do you like the Blackhawks?
A: I love the Blackhawks! I watch them with my Grandpa who is a big fan, which is one reason I was so excited and eager to join the group. I couldn’t wait to tell him and I can’t wait for him to see me on the ice.
Q: What does it mean to play hockey?
A: To have fun! I get to learn how to ice skate and learn the game of hockey.
Q: What were you scared or nervous about?
A: Falling down, which I assume everyone is nervous about especially while holding a hockey stick and not being able to use your hands. I was also nervous about stopping since there is no brake, but I felt better once I got on and treated it like rollerblading. Also, I had a coach working with me explaining how to stop and how to get up from falling.
Q: How long did it take you to feel comfortable?
A: For me, maybe after 3 or 4 laps around. It really helped to have coaches around to help me. Coach Kelly was my partner and made me feel comfortable. She really knew what she was doing and was so good at skating. She could turn and go backwards to assist me and gave me good tips to correct things I was doing wrong or needed to try.
Q: How did it feel to skate?
A: It felt similar to rollerblading, but it was actually more comfortable because the street is bumpy where the ice was so smooth. I felt proud when I realized I could skate on my own and was able to join another group where I could work on passing and goals.
Q: What did you like the most?
A: I liked that the puck was huge and filled with something that made noise when it moved around which made it easier for me to track. It’s cool that it is like that for blind people to hear so they can play. I also learned about banging my stick on the ground and how, when, and why we do it for each other being visually impaired or blind.
Q: What are you excited about going forward?
A: I am excited to go back and see everyone and get back on the ice! I think it would be awesome to be able to teach my parents how to ice skate.
Our first meeting with Coach Mike made us realize this was going to be something special for Katelyn. He went above and beyond to ensure she could start ASAP. I could tell he loved what he did and was excited to share his passion with Katelyn. Katelyn had many questions, as she was so excited, and Coach Mike took the time to answer every question she had in a fully attentive way. As a Mom, I was confident in the decision we made to get her involved with this group.
It’s a great opportunity for Katelyn to have fun, get stronger by challenging herself and grow as a person. I’d say after one lesson, Coach Mike succeeded in his goal of wanting Katelyn to have fun and learn to skate. I honestly was surprised how quickly she picked it up! The entire team and staff was welcoming, supportive and helped her feel like she belonged right away. A younger player came up to her at the end to tell her welcome to the team. It was so sweet! Looking forward to what this season will bring and thankful for the experience for her.