Red Lake Falls boy named USA Hockey Disabled Player of the Year – The Rink Live

RED LAKE FALLS, Minn. — A Red Lake Falls boy is being recognized nationally for his accomplishments in sled hockey and in his community.

Ten-year-old Alex Gullingsrud has been named the 2023 USA Hockey Player with Disability of the Year. The award honors and recognizes a player who has demonstrated “outstanding perseverance and dedication by demonstrating the ability to overcome obstacles in pursuit of excellence, both on and off the ice. Gullingsrud is the youngest winner of the award, but he has been through more than the average 10-year-old.

Gullingsrud was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer, when he was eight years old. As part of his treatment, he underwent chemotherapy and two surgeries; one of which was the amputation of his right leg and part of his right hip, forever altering his life.

Gullingsrud comes from an athletic family; his older brother plays baseball and her mother, Nikki, is a volleyball coach and runs marathons. She loved sports, as did her family. Before her amputation, she played baseball and basketball.

However, his diagnosis and amputation changed his ability to play the way he had.

“One of his questions was, ‘when can I go back to doing this like I did before?’ and we’ve had to say, ‘You won’t. You won’t be able to do it the way you used to, but you’ll have to figure out a new way,'” said her mother, Nikki.

Even though his friends made sure to include Gullingsrud and find new ways to play together, he still struggled to find a sense of belonging.

“It was really hard, mentally going back to school and not being able to keep up or not being able to be fast enough or staying with his friends,” his mother said.

That all changed when the Gullingsruds discovered Hope Inc., and Gullingsrud joined a game of wheelchair baseball. While playing wheelchair baseball, Bill Grommesh, CEO of Hope Inc., recognized something in Gullingsrud.

“When he came out and played baseball, it was very clear that he needed something to fight for, something to be competitive at,” Grommesh said. “Sledge hockey is an extremely competitive sport. People who don’t know about it think it’s a nice thing … but it’s real. It’s physical. It’s emotional.”

Despite the Gullingsruds’ athleticism, they were not a hockey family. Hope Inc. provided the sled and stick, and the family drove 100 miles so Gullingsrud could try hockey for the first time. Her mother was concerned that her son would take up sports.

“We’d see him push a couple times and then go down, push a couple times, go down and get back up. And he was like, boy, it’ll be interesting to see what he thinks of this.” she said. “And at the end of the hour and a half practice. It was like, wow, he’s really catching up. He’s enjoying this.”

Gullingsrud was adjusting to sled hockey like a duck to water, and more importantly, he loved it.

“I like that I can go fast and I can, like, shoot the puck really far,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to do.”

Gullingsrud says that the best part of his game is his handling of the stick, but his mother also credits his bravery.

“It’s relentless,” he said. “One day they played the UND Fighting Hawks in hockey. And they have a video of Alex, he’s coming with the puck and three UND guys are coming at him. And they’re coming right at him, and he’s just going after the puck; he ends up getting the puck… he skates through them, and he just tries to score… there was no fear.”

Sled hockey and wheelchair baseball have changed the lives of Gullingsrud and his family.

“That’s been a lifesaver for him.” said his mom. “When sled hockey started, you could see Alex come out again, the competitive side of him; he was happy.”

Receiving the award, which also recognizes a player’s impact on their community, surprised Gullingsrud.

“It’s really shocking that they gave me that. And it’s also great. It’s, like, probably the best award I’ve ever received,” he said.

But those around Gullingsrud were not surprised that he received this honor.

“Alex has just made a huge impact on the Hope Inc. sled hockey program and his community. People have rallied around him and it has a positive impact on everyone he engages with,” Grommesh said.

“It’s amazing. It means more than you can say, it’s just an amazing feeling, and it’s, it’s like a dream. Wow, people recognize what he’s been through, what he’s had to overcome, the perseverance he’s had had to have, and that’s how it is, it’s moving”. said her mother when asked about the award that meant to her and her family.

Another way Gullingsrud has made a positive impact in his community is his family’s volunteer work with multiple charities. He began volunteering at the hospital and even helped a girl who lost her leg in a car accident come to terms with what happened.

Her biggest piece of advice to other kids in her situation is “there’s always a chance…never give up…you should always try things instead of giving up.”