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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Rich Jensen, left, and Scott Stewart, both employed by GBS Benefits, compete with each other in sled hockey gear used by Paralympians.

PARK CITY — A few dozen desk-job professionals learned the difference between disability and practiced ability Tuesday when they donned sports gear worn by Paralympic athletes to try their hand at Paralympic sports.

The office professionals from GBS Benefits Inc. were coached in the half-day event at the National Ability Center by Paralympians revered as international champions.

"We're having fun," said participant Neal McLaughlin, who traveled from Denver for the event, speaking of his experience trying sled hockey. "The disabled athletes perform better than we do. They're so unbelievably fast and can turn on a dime. It's incredible."

The athletes Tuesday morning played hockey sitting in double-bladed sleds in Tuesday's events. They steered, balanced and propelled themselves using shortened hockey sticks in each hand.

"For people who are paralyzed, this is as close as they'll ever get to playing real hockey," said National Ability Center spokesman Ryan Jensen. "You still have the gear — they're wearing helmets. And they're still yelling and hitting ... It's the same experience, just different equipment."

Several participants in the Paralympic experience hockey said one of the hardest parts of the game was learning to balance. Their words were verified by their experiences of tipping onto their elbows and overturning their sleds to land belly-first on the ice.

"It just shows that it's not always the people with obvious physical disabilities that have the disabilities," McLaughlin said.

Alpine skiing Paralympic gold medalist Stephani Victor echoed the participants' comments.

"It's like anything — you have to train to be good at it," she said. "Just because you have your arms, your eyesight, your legs, doesn't mean you can do it."

Following the sled hockey event, the participants and Paralympic athlete coaches headed to the slopes to try seated alpine skiing. The event uses a single ski attached to a short seat, allowing even amputees missing both legs to participate.

"People automatically concede they're going to be better than me, but I can ski circles around them," Victor said, herself a double amputee. "It's about training. I'm on snow 350 days a year."

The National Ability Center is a Park City-based nonprofit group that opens sporting activities to people of all levels of ability, Jensen said. Tuesday's experience, sponsored by The Hartford insurance company, will be repeated Thursday. In a few weeks, a similar ski experience will be sponsored by Xango.

The center also hosts events for kids learning to race on skis, horseback riding, cycling, water skiing and several other things.

"Its a wonderful place to explore your potential," said Victor, who started her career at the center. "It demonstrates that anything's possible."

Learn more about the center by visiting discovernac.org. There, interested people can volunteer, sign up to participate, intern or donate money and used sporting equipment.

The Hartford representative John Carideo said the insurance company participates because it's a learning opportunity for their business associates.

"It gets our partners to look at others and themselves in a different light."


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