By Devin Lowe | Sept. 09, 2019, 6:32 p.m. (ET)

The Tigers sled hockey team posing alongside the $20,000 Team USA check on Sept. 6, 2019 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When Doris Donley learned the fate of her team’s stolen sled hockey equipment, her heart sank.

Last Tuesday, thieves made off with a trailer full of sleds, helmets and sticks belonging to the Tigers sled hockey team, the adaptive arm of the Colorado Springs Tigers Hockey program.

The next day, when Donley opened the trailer door, she discovered that the aluminum and steel runners and blades that make the sleds usable were stripped, jeopardizing the team’s upcoming season.

“The initial feeling was disbelief, and then I experienced a little bit of anger, and then just sadness,” said Donley, who is the adaptive hockey coordinator for the Tigers program. “I worried that we wouldn’t have a program for the sled hockey team this year. How would we make that happen?”

“There were 30 sleds in there and that affects 30 players… that’s basically the whole program.”

The estimated cost of the missing equipment was approximately $25,000. Then there was the issue of procuring new sleds: traditional hockey stores don’t sell sled hockey equipment. Each sled takes around a month to manufacture and costs upwards of $700. The players were also missing their helmets.

Donley was crushed. But then one phone call changed everything—and showed her the power of the Colorado Springs community, also known as Olympic City USA, to come together in support of her program.

On Friday, three days after the equipment was reported missing, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee announced that it had partnered with USA Hockey, the Bob Greene Memorial Fund and Broadmoor World Arena to provide $20,000 in funding to the Tigers sled hockey team.

“It’s been an emotional week, from learning about the theft of the trailer … and then I got this phone call yesterday. I’ve been bawling all week,” Donley said at a presentation of the $20,000 check at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center. “The pillars of our community have come together to support our local sled hockey team. That speaks of greatness.”

The donation is part of a broader effort by the USOPC to showcase the impact of its athletes and programs in Colorado Springs in an initiative called Team USA in our Community.

It also supports Paralympic sport at the grassroots level, raising awareness of Paralympic programming and offering more opportunities than ever for children with disabilities to participate not just in sled hockey, but in all sports.

Download the Team USA app today to keep up with sled hockey and all of your favorite sports, plus access to videos, Olympic and Paralympic team bios, and more.

“We are so thrilled to partner with the other three organizations to be able to make this donation to the team. Growth of sled hockey and other Paralympic sports in the community is so, so critical to the Paralympic pipeline,” said Julie Dussliere, vice president of U.S. Paralympics. “Hopefully some of these athletes sitting here this morning might be on a future Paralympic team someday.”

Donley, who has been with the adaptive team for eight years, has seen firsthand the impact that those initiatives – and the unprecedented international success of the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team – have had on her program.

“When we first started, here in Colorado Springs, there were five players,” Donley said. “Now we have up to 30 players here locally, anywhere from the youth to adults to our veterans, so we’ve seen major growth. We’ve also seen the level of play increase.”

Her Tigers players have watched the Paralympic team become a world powerhouse over the years and picked out favorite players on the squad, from Taylor Lipsett to Jen Lee. Watching the team, she says, makes them want to improve their own skills.

More than anything, the adversity the team experienced this week had an unexpected effect.

When Donley assessed the damage, she emailed the team to break the news. The responses she received were heartbreaking.

“Does this mean we don’t get to have a team?”

“This was going to be my first year and now I don’t get to play.”

“This is what I live for.”

“You as a leader, you try very hard to remain optimistic, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, Really, truly, how are we going to make this work?” Donley said. “But we started to see the players encouraging each other. They started saying, ‘We’ve got this, you guys, we’ll figure something out.’ We just watched all of the players encourage each other. It was truly like watching them come together as a team.

“This is why we do sled hockey. We want them to have the exact same experience as the standing players. The teamwork, the camaraderie, everything that happens in traditional hockey, we want to happen in sled hockey, and we watched it happen this week.”

Thanks to the efforts of the USOPC, USA Hockey, the Bob Greene Memorial Fund and Broadmoor World Arena – in addition to the generous contributions from individuals in the Colorado Springs community – the Tigers sled hockey team has received more than $30,000 in donations in four days.

The Tigers will be back in action Oct. 5, just in time for the new season.