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INDIAN TRAIL, NC (WBTV) - NASCAR driver Joey Logano says he's reaching out to help a group of individuals who don't often get recognized the way they should.
Logano, the reigning Rookie of the Year, is partnering up with the Extreme Ice Center in Indian Trail to develop, build and donate new state-of-the-art sleds for the United States Paralympic Sled Hockey Team.
The Paralympics begin this Saturday in Vancouver.
Click the attached video to see the full report.
More information released from the Extreme Ice Center is below.
INDIAN TRAIL, NC (March 10, 2010) – When Extreme Ice Center's General Manager Mike Mulhall first got his hands on one of the sleds that the United States Paralympic Sled Hockey Team was using in practice and competition, he knew that he and his staff needed to do something. So they enlisted the help of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver and reigning Rookie of the Year Joey Logano and put a plan into motion.
In the coming weeks, that plan will come to fruition, when the US Paralympic Sled Hockey Team (often called "sledge hockey" internationally) takes to the ice in the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on the their brand new, custom-fitted sleds.
The new, state-of-the-art sleds were developed, built and donated to the US Paralympic team by the Extreme Ice Center.
"It's a great feeling to do something good for such a deserving group of individuals, but that is not why we did it," said Mulhall from his office at the Indian Trail, NC-based Extreme Ice Center. "We did it because we wanted our US Paralympic Sled Hockey team to have the equipment that they deserve to perform their best on the ice in competition. This was not something to make us feel good, but to give back to the teams and athletes that sometimes don't get as much attention as others, even though they are just as much athletes as anyone. These guys had some challenges with their equipment and we just wanted to help out."
The project started when Mulhall talked with a friend who lives in Rochester, New York, the training site for the US Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. Mulhall was told that the talented team was in need of some new equipment, mainly the sleds that they ride on to get up and down the ice. Mulhall had a sled sent to him in North Carolina and saw that it was getting old and in despair. The sleds were all second-hand sleds, made mostly outside of the United States. Mulhall instantly got an idea and set the wheels into motion.
"I met with my partner in here at the rink, Tom Logano, and proposed an idea to try and design, develop, build and produce some newer and better sleds for the team at no cost to them," added Mulhall. "Right away, Tom was on board with the program. So we started making some calls, getting things rolling and put our plan into motion."
Mulhall enlisted the help of several friends and even some members of the motorsports community that is ever prevalent around the North Carolina region to develop some new sleds. After some time researching and developing, David Guess took over the task of construing the new sleds. Guess made a trip to New York and custom-fitted each player to their specific sled and returned to North Carolina to finish the project. The new sleds were redesigned for better weight distribution and maneuverability
At the same time, Tom Logano asked his son, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano, if he would like to get involved in the project, knowing his love for the game of hockey. Joey immediately jumped on board and used his status as a member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family of Drivers to help fund the project.
"When I got the call to get involved, I immediately jumped on board because I thought it was an awesome project," said Joey Logano. "I love the sport of hockey and I've got the biggest respect for anyone that plays the sport. And to think that these guys on the Paralympic team play the sport to the same level as those who can skate and do it by riding sleds up and down the ice was amazing to me. So I decided to get more involved and help them make it happen and do anything I could to help the US team have a better shot at competing for the gold. When I saw the final product, I was just blown away."
Being a member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family of Drivers, Joey earns money for his charity of choice by drinking a Coke during television interviews and personal appearances. He used the money that he earns for charity through the "Chugs for Charity" program to help fund the product.
"Having Joey come on board with this project was a huge help and really made it all happen," added Mulhall. "He didn't want to come in and take the spotlight on it or anything. That is not who Joey is. He just wanted to help out some guys that needed help. And he wanted Extreme Ice Center to take the lead in this, so that is what we did. We kept Joey involved and he's been great at lending his support, ideas and time to the project. He's even used his status to help raise awareness of the team."
The project took just over nine months to complete, and on December 2, 2009, a total of 20 brand new sleds were delivered to the USA training facility in Rochester, NY. The team took to the ice for the first time on their new sleds in competition in late January for the 2010 Japan Para Ice Sledge Hockey Championships in Nagano City, Japan. The US team went 4-1 during the tournament and captured first-place honors. The US has won the last three International Paralympic Committee-sanctioned sled hockey events dating back to the 2009 IPC World Ice Sledge Hockey Championship last May.
"In this sport, you can really only go as far as your equipment will let you," said J.J. O'Connor, General Manager for the US Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. "State-of-the-art equipment is something that we've not really had the chance to have as a team until now. And thanks to the Extreme Ice Center and the Loganos, we've got that. David (Guess) did a great job building these sleds and talking to the players and coaches to find out what they wanted and needed. And now, all of the hard work is coming to fruition. In the past, the team members were responsible for purchasing and maintaining their own sleds. Now, they don't have to worry about that and we can focus on the game. In short, we now have the equipment that we need to go out there and fight for a gold medal in Vancouver and I think we will.
Sled hockey was invented at a Stockholm, Sweden rehabilitation center in the early 1960s by a group of Swedes who, despite their physical disability, wanted to continue playing hockey. Sled hockey follows most of the typical ice hockey rules with the exception some of the equipment. Players sit in specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades. There are two sticks for each player instead of one and the sticks have metal picks on the butt end for players to propel themselves. Goalies wear basically the same equipment but do make modifications to the glove. Metal picks are sewn into the backside to allow the goalie to maneuver.
"The quality of the sleds that were given to us by the Extreme Ice Center and the Loganos is unparalleled to anything we've had before," said US Paralympic Sled Hockey team member Jimmy Connelly, who was born with spina bifida, a birth defect caused by the incomplete formation of vertebrae. "These new sleds are durable, mobile, can let us spin on a dime and have an edge that none of us have every experienced. They make the game even more fun for all of us and they are just a blast to ride. These are top of the line sleds and we can't think those guys enough for what they did for our team."
The end result for Mulhall, the Loganos and the staff at the Extreme Ice Center will be watching the US Paralympic Sled Hockey team going for gold in Vancouver. The team starts play on March 13th against Korea. The gold medal game will take place on March 20th.
"The Olympics always bring our country together and bring the entire world together," added Mulhall. "But it doesn't stop when the Olympics we all know and see come to an end. That is when the Paralympic athletes move into town and show that they are just as gifted of athletes as the regular Olympians. So I can't wait to see these guys get at it on the ice. Hopefully, they come home with the gold and they can be just another exciting chapter of Olympic pride. And hopefully, we have had something to do with making that dream happen for them."
For more information on Extreme Ice Center, visit them on the web at www.xicenter.com or call 704-882-1830.