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Windsor blind hockey program wants more people to sign up no matter their level of vision

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As someone who struggles with distance vision, 25-year-old Tessa Rankin assumed playing hockey is something she would "never do in a million years."

But for a little more than a year, Rankin has been lacing up her skates and stepping on the ice as a participant of the Canadian Blind Hockey program.

The program launched in Windsor two years ago with one-hour sessions, monthly or bimonthly, taking place at the WFCU Centre.

However, organizers say the number of participants who have walked through the doors is not as high as they would like it to be.

Prior to joining the blind hockey program, Rankin — who can only see things up close and has poorer vision in her left eye compared to her right eye — said she had to convince herself to become a player.

After all, she had only watched hockey on television. She had never played a game of hockey in her life.

"When I was approached about playing the sport, I said, 'No way. I don't want to get a broken leg.' I don't want any of that," explained Rankin.

However, Rankin quickly learned the rules of blind hockey are adjusted to cater to different levels of visual impairment.

Body-checking and fighting are prohibited in blind hockey, Rankin explained.

"You can hear the pucks. It makes noise so we can track the puck with our ears," she said.

Her brother, Ian Rankin, serves as the player representative for the Windsor Canadian Blind Hockey program. He also takes the ice, despite only having 10 per cent vision in his eyes.

He said the local group consistently sees between "three to eight" participants for each session it runs at the WFCU Centre.

"We would love to see it grow to eventually actually get a team here. We're hoping to get enough to play five-on-five as a scrimmage," said Ian.

According to Ian, the low turnout is a sign that people with visual impairments, including those who have never skated before, are nervous about playing hockey.

"We have different players on the ice who have variations of vision. If they have less vision, they can rely on the noise of the puck rather than look for it," said Ian, adding a blind hockey puck can be "three to four times larger" than a puck used in the NHL.

"Our goaltender is completely blind so that helps them as well. The sound also lets them know if they need to block left or right."

The program is free to join and open for all ages. Gear and equipment can also be supplied to anyone who does not have their own.

According to Ian, the program will also teach participants how to skate.

As for his sister, Tessa Rankin, she said playing hockey has opened up a "whole new side" of her.

"We're all coming together to play a sport that we love but it's been changed and modified in a way that makes it safe," said Tessa, adding there's one more benefit to participating in the program.

"I get to practice with my brother."

Anyone interested in participating in the Canadian Blind Hockey program can do so using this link.

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