BUTTE — The feeling of gliding over the freshly Zamboni'd ice at the Butte Community Ice Center drew a strong reaction from Kristine Merrick, who hadn't ventured onto the rink in many years.
"I'm loving it," Merrick said. "I'm gonna do it from now on."
Being confined to a wheelchair off the ice, sliding around the rink also gave her something else.
"Being independent," she said. "Being able to do this is just awesome."
Merrick's vehicle on Friday was a sled hockey sled, one of several brought down to Butte from the Montana Independent Living Project Helena office for some test drives. About a dozen people with limited mobility were able to zip around the rink under their own power, using a pair of special sticks with teeth on the ends to grip the ice and propel themselves.
Sled hockey, which was invented in the 1960s, has been a sanctioned Winter Paralympic sport since 1994. The United States was won gold in the event at four of the past five Winter Paralympics.
"We're always trying to come up with new recreation opportunities for people with disabilities, or people that just want to try new ways of having fun," said Cassie Wick, an Independent Living Specialist.
Connor Schrapps was 18 years old and a few months from graduating from high school when a serious dirt biking accident left him with three shattered vertebrates and paralyzed from the waist down.
A former hockey player, the sleds gave Schrapps, now 22, an opportunity to get back on the ice.
"I just love it, there's a lot of freedom," he said. "I grew up playing hockey. It's awesome to get back out here and play it again."