Sadecki Finds Freedom in Hockey

“You might say that blindness and ice skating go together like boats and the desert.”

That’s what Jim Sadecki thought when he first heard about blind hockey, but that’s exactly what led him to reclaim his freedom after a tumultuous time in his life — a time that included three deployments, two surgeries, the loss of his father and the loss of his sight.

Jim Sadecki (right) at the ceremonial puck drop during the BVA Showcase Game with White House Counsel Donald Mcgahn

Now a married, 40-year-old father of two, Sadecki’s Air Force career included three trips to the Middle East for missions like Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, after a decade of service, Sadecki learned that his father Charles had been diagnosed with cancer and an honorable discharge to care for him was granted. That year, at 27 years old, Sadecki wouldn’t just lose his father — he’d lose both of his eyes and most of his nose in a freak accident at work.

“I was working at a crane operations company at the time,” Sadecki said. “I lost both of my eyes completely and have prosthetics now. They had to rebuild my nose. After that, I tried a lot of things to just keep going. I had a tandem bike. I tried rowing.”

It wasn’t until 2016 that Sadecki discovered his sport of choice — hockey.

“In 2015 and 2016, I got terrible infections on my face from the accident, which led to two different surgeries,” Sadecki said. “After that I put on a lot of weight and I was really down and out. At about that time, Bruce [Porter] called me up and asked me to come try his hockey program. When you’re blind, you don’t really think of that as a possibility, but I just thought, ‘Why not? You never know until you give it a try.’”

Porter, program director for Blind Veterans Association (BVA) Sports, had started a blind hockey program near Sadecki’s home in Burlington, Connecticut.

“I want to grow the sport nationally and help as many blinded vets as we can,” Porter said. “Skating gives these individuals the chance to improve their balance and coordination, but it’s more than that. It gives them a community. It gives them the opportunity to be on a team.”

While the community and connections originally drew Sadecki to the rink, what he found on the ice was much greater.

“Hockey was the first thing in 13 years that I could do on my own,” Sadecki said. “I didn’t need to hold on to anyone’s arm. I could find the puck. I could go fast. To me, it’s freedom. Even though there are walls around the ice, when I’m skating, I feel more free than I would on solid ground, walking in a big, open field.”

Just a week after skating for the first time, Sadecki traveled to Washington, D.C., with his 17-year-old son Carson for Porter’s three-day Try Blind Hockey event. Once they returned home, Sadecki and his son enrolled in an eight-week Learn to Skate USA class with the goal of learning to skate backward.

“Anyone can get out there and get around forward,” Sadecki laughed. “If I was going to really do this, I needed to improve my basic skating skills. I remember when I played my first hockey game, I was laughing so hard in my helmet because I could hear the other players, and I was like, ‘I don’t even know who’s on my team!’ But all of that goes away after a while and you figure it out. We all started in the same place. We all share the same passion.”

Today, Sadecki continues to play hockey, even playing in blind hockey games and attending Try Blind Hockey events across the country with Porter. While each milestone brings challenges, ultimately, Sadecki said, the camaraderie and independence outweigh the struggles.

“I never really thought I could do any of it, at first,” Sadecki said. “In my group class I remember Bruce talking about crossovers and I thought, ‘I won’t be able to do those.’ But I downloaded the Learn to Skate USA App and I listened to the video demonstrations of each move to figure them out. The videos were so thorough and descriptive, they got me doing crossovers.”

“What skating does for me is it gives me my freedom,” Sadecki said. “I’m not a burden. So often people have to take the time to explain everything and take things slow to help me out. When I’m out on the ice, I can do it. I’m free.”

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