March 19, 2019
On Sunday in Pyeongchang, the U.S. sled hockey team defeated Canada in a thrilling overtime game to earn Team USA’s third straight Paralympics gold.
But for 20-year-old Kelsey DiClaudio, one of the best sled hockey players in the world, watching this triumph was bittersweet.
“I’m very happy for them, I’ve played alongside those guys, I know every single one of those guys and they deserve to be there,” DiClaudio told ThinkProgress. “But at the same time, it can be very difficult to watch.”
It’s been a historic year for women’s hockey in the United States — last March, the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT) successfully held a boycott and earned a historic contract from USA Hockey, which providing the women with a level of wages, perks, and accommodations equivalent to their counterparts on the mens’ team. Last month in Pyeongchang, the USWNT matched their victory off the rink with another win for the ages, defeating Team Canada in an overtime shootout to win its first Olympic gold since 1998.
Unfortunately, these monumental victories for women in the sport have not yet trickled down to the women competing in sled hockey. Women’s sled hockey is not an official Paralympic sport, and although there is a U.S. women’s national sled hockey team, it is not officially recognized by USA Hockey.
“It just sucks, when we see the guys who have been coming to the Paralympics since 1994, and we haven’t even been recognized,” DiClaudio said.
A coed sport in name only
Only two women have ever played sled hockey in the Paralympics –Brit Mjaasund Oejen was a goalie for Norway in the sled hockey’s first appearance in the Paralympic Games, back in 1994, and Lena Schroeder, also from Norway, competed this year.
Technically, sled hockey is a coed sport. Currently, each team is permitted to have a roster of up to 17 men, but are permitted to have an 18th player if that spot goes to a female. In other words, each team competing in the Paralympics could have a woman on its roster without taking a way a single roster spot from a man. It’s telling that only one team has decided to do that.
DiClaudio began playing sled hockey when she was nine years old, and instantly fell in love with it. Like most girls in the sport, she grew up playing with the boys. It’s never bothered her. She’s been participating in USA sled hockey camps with the guys since 2011, often as the only female. In 2014, she became the first woman ever named to the U.S. Men’s National Development Sled Hockey Team, and for the next couple of years she juggled her time on the women’s national team and the men’s development team, working twice as hard as everyone else so she could keep her Paralympic dreams alive. But things didn’t turn out like she had hoped....
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