“It just goes to show people that hockey is for everyone,” Donley said. “When I first started, I really only thought that there was sled and special, and in the course of 10 years now we’ve seen warrior take off and blind take off.”
Try Blind Hockey Day brought out about 50 blind hockey players of all ages from toddlers to nearly senior citizens. Donley recalls a 60-year-old who was an avid hockey player growing up before losing his vision and had to stop playing the game he loved. When the man got a chance to get back on the ice at the Try Blind Hockey Day, he shared a message with Donley: “‘If I die today, I will die a happy man.’ It just broke me.”
The success of the Try Blind Hockey Day led to the formation of the Colorado Visionaries Blind Hockey Club. Donley is in an advisory role for the club.
Donley’s biggest opportunity working with adaptive hockey came in April 2018 when U.S. Blind Team head coach Mike Svac called and asked if she wanted to be the team’s general manager. Donley was thrilled to take a role in one of the fastest growing disabled disciplines.
When the U.S. Blind Hockey Team took on Canada in Pittsburgh last year, a pregame moment really struck a chord for Donley.
“That was probably the highlight of everything in my entire time volunteering is watching all of these athletes line up on the blue line — here they are blind and they thought something was taken away from them and now they’re wearing USA on their jersey and the national anthem plays,” Donley said. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I still get emotional.”
Drawing from 10 years of volunteering with disabled disciplines, Donley has been able to use her past experiences to her advantage in her role as U.S. Blind Team general manager. She believes she adds two key pieces to the program.
“One, I’m somewhat administrative in my mindset,” Donley said. “I like to be pretty organized and I like to learn the rules. We started out right away making sure that we were in compliance with the rules of USA Hockey. The second piece is, they call me Mom, even though I am their GM. I love to nurture. They nicknamed me Mom. It doesn’t matter how old they are, either. There’s a 60-year-old that calls me Mom.”
Donley has two kids of her own along with two grandkids, but it warms her heart when she hears players call her that special name.
“I always wanted a lot of kids,” she said. “Now I just have a gazillion.”
It’s an exciting time for disabled hockey and Donley loves being right in the mix. She doesn’t have any plans on leaving her volunteer opportunities anytime soon.
“I have a 90-year-old father-in-law,” the 55-year-old Donley said. “I’m guessing I have at least 35 years left in me.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.