Jessie Farmer-Gravelle, 15, is one of the Capital City Condors players who take to the ice just east of Ottawa in Rockland each week.
Steve Cain - CainCo Photography
To live the Canadian dream is most kid’s fantasy, growing up playing hockey to eventually make it to the big leagues and play for their favourite NHL team.
For some kids and families, the dream is a bit more modest. The Canadian dream for some parents is to just sit in the arena stands on a Saturday, sipping Tim Hortons, while the kids skate around the rink playing a game.
And up until a few years ago, for families of many disabled children in the region, that’s all it was: a dream.
But for the last year and a half, parents of 17 disabled youth have been able to get up on Saturday mornings and drive to a rink in Rockland so their kids can take to the ice with the Capital City Condors, an organization founded five years ago in Kanata by Jim and Shana Perkins.
“We don’t understand how much it brings to the family,” Jim Perkins said. “It’s part of our culture as a country. Even if it’s a special needs group, the kids love it.”
The qualifying details to get on the team are fairly simple. If kids can’t qualify to play for any of the other teams in the city, they can join the Condors.
“Hockey is Canada’s sport and every child growing up has dreamt of playing hockey and playing in the NHL. It’s no different for these kids,” said Condors East head coach Jeff Kelly. “Up until this program came around, they couldn’t even participate in a regular hockey program.”
Jim went to help his father-in-law with special hockey while visiting in Cambridge, Ont. and the family decided to find an equivalent organization in Ottawa to get involved with back home.
Problem was, there wasn’t one.
The program in Kanata has grown so much, that last year an east-end Condors group started up at Canadian International Hockey Academy Arena in Rockland, though most players come from Orléans and east Ottawa.
The league is home to 17 players and 17 individual stories, said coach Kelly, a retired police officer from Orléans. “I could tell you a story on each and every one of them, and that’s the thing – every week they continue to do things that amaze me.”
One player came to the league unable to skate without grasping a chair on the ice for some time. He worked with coaching staff over the season, and one day let go of the chair, skating on his own from the blue line to the red line.
“He said, ‘Isn’t this awesome? Look at me, I’m awesome,’” Kelly said. “So now he’s known as Mr. Awesome, and he has not stepped on ice with a chair ever since.”
Mr. Awesome is just one of the kids who have had their dreams come true.
“We have little guys that think they’re going to make the Senators,” Perkins said. “They have the same dreams as every other kid.”
Perkins said many of the children on the team have spent years watching classmates and siblings off to hockey tournaments and practices, unable to do the same. One player’s parents were even told that he would never walk. And now, when jersey day rolls around at school, the kids can don their Condors jerseys.
This year, players were able to do the same thing as many of their classmates during a busy hockey weekend and participate in the Bell Capital Cup, which ran a special hockey division this year.
There is a wide range of ages and abilities stepping on the ice every Saturday.
Some kids have physical disabilities, like one player who was born without a hip socket, while others have developmental disabilities.
It’s taught coaches to roll with the punches. Two kids want to play goalie? Five kids all want the number of their hero, regular volunteer Kyle Turris? It’s all ok.
“What determines success for us, it’s that they’re still smiling,” Perkins said.
The current challenge is balancing players who are getting too old to play with some of the younger children, but don’t want to leave their Condors family. They’ve split the groups up in Kanata, but a separate league for older players and adults is the next step for the growing organization.
Kelly would like to see the east Condors move to a more central location in the future, but also grow in player numbers as Kanata has.
“There are a number of families who probably aren’t aware of this amazing program that’s out there,” he said.
Kelly said any parents interested in signing up their kids should visit www.capitalcitycondors.com and contact Perkins and himself to see if it’s a good fit.
“They have their health issues and their challenges, but for the hour and a half they’re at the hockey rink, it’s like their NHL,” Kelly said. “There’s something magical that happens every Saturday.”