GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the Grand Rapids Griffins hold their annual Great Skate Winterfest, three out of the four top individual fundraisers for the event are all from one family.
They understand better than most where the money goes. It supports the Griffins Youth Foundation, allowing kids who might otherwise play hockey.
Tryson Smallegan and his younger twin sisters are competing for the top fundraiser spot this year. They all play hockey through the foundation.
Tryson was worried he might not be able to continue with the sport a couple years ago when he lost his vision.
“When he went blind, I thought what is his future going to look like? The only thing that made him happy was hockey,” Tryson’s mom, Hannah Smallegan, said.
Tryson had a cyst on his brain when he was born so doctors put in a shunt. Over the years, it stopped working properly, and eventually led to loss of vision, despite surgery when Tryson was 7 years old.
He had to relearn how to do everything from walking to reading.
His mom says it was frustrating for him as he went through the stages of accepting his new normal. because he wanted to feel independent. She was worried he might become depressed.
The volunteers behind the Griffins Youth Foundation made sure she knew that Tryson could also relearn how to play his favorite sport.
Tryson uses an adaptive hockey puck, which is much larger than a traditional puck. It’s steel with bearings inside that make noise as it moves on the ice so Tryson can hear where it’s going.
He also has an ice buddy, a volunteer who skates with him during games. They help guide him while his teammates hit their sticks on the ice, so he knows where to pass the puck.
“The hockey was the fun part of it all for him to feel normal. That’s all he wants is to feel like any other kid. In hockey, he does,” said his mom.
That’s one of the reasons the Smallegan kids have worked hard to raise money for the foundation.
“I’m just so proud of him. He goes out there, he’s the only one who is visually impaired, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t let it bother him, he has fun, and we’re just so proud of him out there,” Hannah said.
For the Smallegan family, win or lose, it’s all about simply playing the game.