The program sought to branch out to St. Cloud, which is the same distance from Wilson’s home to Twin Cities. So Wilson volunteered to start the St. Cloud team, which has allowed him to come out of his shell through his involvement.
“I’m a very private person, and I don’t like a lot of things to be public knowledge, but when I’m comfortable, I will talk with buddies about experiences and things like that,” Wilson said. “Just being around these like-minded veterans, it’s a good place for you to feel safe and not judged. This has become more of an outreach to continue to help our disabled veterans and get them what they’re looking for and what they need.”
The team takes part in not only practices and games, but also off-ice activities like golf outings, pond hockey, charity fun runs, pre-skate meals, a yearly all-day barbeque at Wilson’s house and more.
“My teammates have done just a tremendous amount of healing for me,” Wilson said. “They have provided me a place where I can kind of regain a purpose again. Now, my therapy comes from knowing that there’s 60 disabled veterans on our team, who come to the rink looking for something and they’re able to leave with a smile on their face.”
But it’s not just the players. Wilson deliberately creates games and events where leaders include not only players, but also spouses and children, as they incorporate extended families to the team. Family is of the utmost importance for Wilson. His wife, Norma, and their seven kids have always been the foundation of Wilson’s support system so it’s important to him that all players’ families have the opportunity to be involved.
Sometimes, after high-profile games, Wilson has led initiatives for potlucks, catered meals, or pizza delivered to the rink intended for both teams, referees, family and friends to feast and fellowship. After the team’s first game, this resulted in recruiting new players.
“None of us can do any of this solely by ourselves,” Wilson said. “We all do truly need the support from our families in order to do this. It’s just providing a place for all of us to feel like we belong.”
With burgeoning participation numbers, Wilson has regularly removed himself from the lineup to open a spot for another player. While he loves playing, Wilson sees more joy through enabling and encouraging others.
Players have offered support for one another through life-changing circumstances like divorces, deaths, and job loss, in addition to marriages, births, promotions and other significant life events.
“I was fortunate enough to surround myself with people who helped make this successful, and that’s a huge factor in this,” Wilson said. “We created a culture within the program of accountability and being accepted no matter what your circumstances are. We all have our darkness, but we all need to take responsibility, as well, so the culture we created inside of the program does that.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.