ICEMAN: Xavier Player shows the way on the sled with the Melbourne Sentinels.
ICEMAN: Xavier Player shows the way on the sled with the Melbourne Sentinels. Contributed GLA170918XAVIER

LISTEN: Cerebral palsy can't stop Gladstone ice hockey star

ICE HOCKEY: Gladstone-raised athlete Xavier Player has defied the odds and is on his way to represent Australia's para ice hockey team at the World Para Ice Hockey Championships in November in Finland.

It is a sport that has always interested the now Melbourne-based schoolteacher, and cerebral palsy will not stop him.

"My sporting background is that I swam and did track and field as a teenager while I was living in Gladstone and para hockey had been something I'd always seen at the Paralympics that had fascinated me," Player said.

He saw an advertisement on Facebook while he was travelling around the US and has no regrets about what has happened since.

"I thought I'd give it a go and I didn't have particularly high expectations heading in," he said. "I'd jump in the sled, have a skate around, I'd fall over a few times and it would be a good experience and something I could say that' I've done."

His perseverance has paid off and he plays for Melbourne Sentinels in what he says will be a rapidly-growing sport.

"We're not officially in a competition yet...para hockey has only been going in Australia for about a year," Player said.

"So there's programs running in Brisbane and Melbourne at the moment and they're in a process of setting up a program in Sydney I believe, and also some interest in Perth."

As for the world champs in Finland, Player said to don the Aussie colours would be a thrill and he had made up some lost ground.

"When I was swimming and running, making an Australian team was always the goal and I never quite got there," Player said.

"To be able to have that opportunity now in a sport that I've only been playing for six or seven months is a real thrill and hopefully we can have some success in Finland which will push us toward qualifying for the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing."

Player explained that the rules were essentially the same as field hockey and the para athletes sat on a sled three to four inches off the ice.

"You push yourself around using your sticks which have steel spikes on the other end to propel yourself forward," he said.

HOW TO HELP

Go to the Australia Sports Foundation website and help Xavier Player get to Finland

Donations will go towards costs of the trip, equipment, physio and off-ice training



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