I never fully realized the impact sports would have on my heart and soul – until this year’s hockey season.  But first, let’s go back a few years to a sport Grace embraced, which would unexpectedly lead to life-changing moments for Ian, and for me.

At 10 years old, encouraged by my love for the sport, Grace became interested in figure skating.  She quickly acquired the skills, loving every minute of being on the ice.  We hired an amazing coach who trained Grace to compete in numerous competitions and perform in skating shows around the state.  Ian would, of course, tag along when the family traveled to attend these events, so he spent many hours in ice arenas in awe of what Grace accomplished.  Ian has always emulated his Graceful Big Sister. In January of 2016, after watching her jump and spin many times, Ian decided he could do that, too. I recall Ian saying to me on numerous occasions, “Mom, I want to be in a show like Gracie!” I quickly agreed.

Although his first year involved crooked ankles, many falls, and slow progress, from the moment he laced up his skates, Grace was Ian’s biggest fan.  Her patience with his stubbornness and wobbly legs on the ice that first year was immeasurable.  Despite the challenges, she was always there to encourage him and to catch him if he fell.  After numerous ‘learn to skate’ sessions, one-on-one sessions with Grace and encouragement from his favorite hockey player & friend, Easton, Ian picked up a hockey stick and took to the ice as a Mite for the next several seasons.

This year, Ian was lucky enough to play on Hudson Hockey’s Bantam C Team. With hours of on and off ice training, late practices (arriving home well after I was tucked into bed), patience (oh, so much patience) and dedication from everyone, this season was nothing short of incredible. As an added bonus, many of the Hudson High School hockey players, who Ian admires, took the time to volunteer to skate with Ian at practices. 

Early in the Bantam season, we were losing to Orono, a Minnesota team, in the last period of  the Inver Grove Tournament. Out of the blue, the game stopped and the Orono players rallied with our team to assist Ian in shooting his first- ever goal. We may have lost the game that day, but what we all gained was priceless!  Later in the season, Ian attended an Orono game to cheer on his new favorite team from the stands.  Not only did they invite him into the locker room as if he was a part of their team, but they also presented him with an Orono Jersey that each athlete and the coach signed.  This is the true meaning of sports.

Then, to our surprise, a few weeks before the State tournament, Maury Glover, from Fox News Twin Cities, interviewed Ian, Coach Jim, and Chad about Ian’s illustrious hockey career-  ha!  The news team did an amazing job highlighting the importance of inclusion in sports, which will hopefully inspire others to do the same.  

To top off this magical season, Hudson Bantam C made the State playoffs, and, with the help of a few “Ian advocates,” WAHA (Wisconsin Amateur Hockey Association) made an age-exception to allow Ian to play with his team. Ian may be the first player with Down syndrome to play in a WI state tourney.

Now seven years after those first tentative steps on the ice, Ian took the first face-off, at the State Championship gameHis team proceeded to play their hearts out–and they WON!  Once again, his teammates selflessly allowed Ian to take over the spotlight as they handed him the State trophy to hold high for the victory lap.  As these moments unfolded, time stood still for me..  The feeling took my breath away.

Little did we know years ago that Ian would not really be ‘IN THE SHOW’ like Grace, but that he would “BECOME THE SHOW.”  When he wasn’t skating EVERY position on the ice, he provided the audience with much needed comic relief.  From his goofy antics, as he would spontaneously jam to a cool song, or smack talking with the referees – asking them to let him make a goal- you just never knew what stunt he might pull off in the middle of a game.  And I mean literally, ‘in the middle’ of the game!

Throughout this season, our four amazing Bantam coaches (especially Coach Jeff for all of the one-on-one time with Ian), the players (who he calls ‘his boys’), and their families, have embraced Ian wholeheartedly, never once treating him any differently than they would their own children. In the end, kids like Ian just want to be like everyone else.  Thank you all for SEEing Ian & making his Ice Dreams come true!

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