In 2001, Nelson Rego was told by a specialist to expect a gradual decline in his vision until, one day, he’d have little to no vision at all. Soon after receiving this news, he woke up to discover that his sight was completely gone.
It took him a few years to adjust to his new situation, but Nelson was determined to live his life to the fullest. In fact, since losing his sight, he’s taken on several impressive challenges such as driving a motorcycle and even race cars.
“I’ve got a beautiful wife and child so I can’t say that I would take that all back because I wouldn’t have what I have now if I didn’t go through that circumstance,” Nelson said.
Very much an athlete, Nelson decided to join a recreational hockey team for blind people, the Edmonton “SeeHawks.” To get more involved in the community, he then joined a Facebook group called “Edmonton Goalies,” where he met John Hunter. The goalie from a sighted team first reached out to Nelson to inquire about gear modifications and a chest protector.
A few weeks later, John was injured just before one of his games, so he reached out for a last-minute replacement in the goalies Facebook group. When no one showed any interest, it seemed as though the game might have to be canceled. Then John got an unexpected call.
“Nelson calls me,” John said, “and he kind of starts out with, ‘Hey, how’s the chest protector going? By the way, I’m not sure if this is a good idea or not but I saw your post for a goalie sub for your league game tonight. What do you think about me playing?'”
John quickly ran the idea by his teammates, who were “all in” for Nelson taking his spot.
“He could be the first blind goalie anywhere to play a league game,” John added. “For sure here in Edmonton nobody 100 percent blind has ever played a league game.”
If Nelson was nervous about his first time playing hockey with a sighted team, it certainly didn’t show. Of course, he’s no stranger to the game, but that didn’t take away from the fact that some key elements were different.
For example, in traditional sighted hockey games, the puck is 3 inches across and 1 inch high. Whereas in blind hockey games, the puck is much larger at 5.5 inches across and 1 inch high. It’s also hollow, constructed out of lighter material, and contains ball bearings so the players can hear it better.
No matter the extra challenges, Nelson stayed focused as he always does. To keep himself centered in the goal, he always measures the distance between the posts by tapping his stick on the right side and his glove on the left. He also utilizes his “tuned” hearing to keep up with the puck.
“As long as I don’t drift far from the net, then I know where I’m at,” Nelson said. “The subtle cues that people with their vision see, I pick up on those subtle cues with my hearing.”
He also relies on his lovely wife Emelinda, who watches from the stands as she gives out audio instructions. With these methods combined, Nelson is a remarkable player.
“I think he’s just got spidey senses,” John said. “The rest of it is all the hockey gods speaking to him.”
Everyone on the team gave it their all, but the game came down to one goal, and they lost 9-8. But the loss didn’t take away from just how proud everyone was of Nelson — and how grateful they were to be a part of such a wonderful game.
“They made no accommodations for me. It was just like being one of the guys on the team and that whole comradery thing that you get with a team that’s the thing that I really love the most,” Nelson said. “Anything you set your mind to regardless of the obstacles, it can be done.”
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