If you don't know already, Zachary is an almost 6 year old kindergartner with cerebral palsy. He has a lot of physical challenges in his life, but he is one feisty little guy and has made so much progress in the past 6 years. We try to expose Zachary to as many experiences as we can and keep his life as normal and typical as possible. But one activity that he doesn't get to do much is sports. That's why events like this are so special to him.
I told Zachary this morning that we were going to skate with the Caps at Kettler, and he was so excited! We made him a photo book of last year's event, so we looked that over beforehand to review what we'd be doing.
The set-up was a little different this year. The event started at 11:30, so we missed the Caps practice. We could have come earlier to watch, but we attend practice a lot, and I knew it was going to be a long day with a lot of waiting, so we skipped it this time.
When we arrived at Kettler, we checked in, got Zachary a t-shirt, and went upstairs, where they were serving pizza. We were able to watch Jason Chimera practicing on the ice with his little son and a few other players, so that was fun.
Then we met up with our volunteer Liz and headed downstairs to get our gear.
Zachary's walking is much more stable compared to last year, but his legs and ankles still aren't strong enough for skates, so he got to ride on a sled again. We are hopeful that one of these years he'll get to try this event on skates instead! Because he needs the sled, this is the only opportunity he'll get to go on the ice all year, and boy, was he ready.
We got to watch the Zamboni (actually, it's an Olympia-brand ice-resurfacer, if you want to be specific) before it was time to get on the ice. Zachary is just dying to ride on that sometime - he loves watching it so much!
Zachary and the other kids waited patiently to get on the ice. It was fun to see some familiar faces from last year, and also see some people that I've only met via social media.
Finally, they gave us the okay to go on the ice! Zachary was basically grinning from ear to ear for the next hour. He wanted to keep going, around and around the ice. He gave us all quite a work-out! He was always so annoyed anytime we stopped to pose for photos, which you'll see in his expressions. I don't think he recognizes the players out of their gear, so he didn't see what was so important that we needed to stop to take pictures!
Before the Caps players came over to our side of the ice, Zachary got the chance to "play" hockey with a few boys who were volunteering. They are clearly experienced hockey players, I'd guess they were maybe 11 or 12 years old. They were amazing with Zachary. I can't tell you how beneficial it is for Zachary to interact with typically developing peers. He was thrilled that they wanted to play with him and really enjoyed playing goalie with them. They were all having a good time. If their parents are somehow reading this, great job raising such good role models! I get a little emotional thinking about this, because kids can be intolerant and mean sometimes. It's just so nice to see these positive interactions.
After some more laps around the ice, Zachary got to meet some Caps players. I've said this before, but hockey players really are the nicest people. I have probably met 3/4 of the Caps team by now, and they are always so friendly. To see them interacting with all the kids was just great.
As we were going around the ice, Zachary noticed John Erskine's gloves laying there so he picked them up and put them on. He wore them for the rest of the time we were there. Thanks for being such a good sport about it, John!
We also met Jack Hillen, who's looking pretty good despite rehabbing a leg injury.
And Connor Carrick, who, at 19, is closer in age to Zachary than to me. I'm not going to think about that anymore. :)
Zachary was just fascinated with the gloves the whole time he had them on. Connor mentioned that the way he was twisting his wrists in the gloves was the same thing that Ovi does when he wants new gloves on the bench, ha!
And finally, we saw Joel Ward. Most of you must know by now that my husband's name is also Joel Ward and we all have Ward jerseys. My older son Benny and I first met "hockey Joel" at the Caps convention back in September and he was so great to us then. Now, Zachary has gotten to meet him too, so we need to figure out a way to get the two Joels to meet!
Those of you who know me well know that I don't usually ask for autographs for myself. I would rather the boys get the chance to collect them. But in this case, I made an exception and had Joel autograph my Ward jersey. I just couldn't pass up the chance!
The event was winding down at this point, so we took a few more laps and then left the ice. Zachary would have stayed out there all day though, if he was allowed to.
On our way out, we got a chance to say good-bye to our favorite Caps pup Ovie the Bulldog, who is moving to California soon. We'll miss seeing you outside practices and games, buddy!
It was a really fun day and I couldn't be more thankful to the Dreams for Kids organization and the Washington Capitals, whose community and philanthropic outreach is second to none. I'm proud to be a fan.
To see all the photos I took today, please check out my Google photos. All photos are copyrighted by me and may not be re-used without permission.
Thanks for reading!