Story by Nabiha Asim
Sitting on a sled, Colin Gooley glides onto the clean ice for an early Saturday morning practice at the Skaneateles YMCA. Maneuvering his sled with a hockey stick in each hand, his movement across the rink appears effortless.
After some focused rounds of shooting, he bumps into the practice goalie and falls off the sled.
“Woooo! He got in your way; wasn’t the other way around,” Amanda Maraness, Gooley’s girlfriend said jokingly.
This is how their relationship works. They spend time at his practices. Gooley gets ice time and Maraness, while wearing Gooley’s USA Sled Hockey gear, gets to enjoy seeing all the cute kids practicing with tiny hockey sticks.
Maraness, 24, said the cutest thing is when other kids playing hockey at the YMCA ask Gooley about playing hockey on a sled. They get excited to hear that he plays for the national team.
Last summer, Gooley was selected to play for USA Sled Hockey, a feat he accomplished after only four years of being on the U.S. Development Sled Hockey team. The USA Sled Hockey team won gold for the third year in a row at the 2018 Paralympics. It’s his goal to keep making the team each year so he can have a chance to travel to Beijing and play in the 2022 Paralympics.
Diagnosed with a rare bone cancer at age seven, Gooley had the option of amputating his leg and getting a prosthetic or keeping it and not being able to use it. Without much hesitation, he chose the former. His reason? “I still wanted to be able to move around and play sports,” Gooley said.
Soon after his doctor, Dr. Healy, amputated his leg, Gooley jumped onto a monkey bar with one leg.
From the monkey bar to the ice rink, Gooley explains he owes a lot to all the people who’ve helped him through his journey including Dr. Healy.
“I guess he really is Dr. Healy because he healed me,” he said.
The very first leg he had was SpongeBob-themed. He now sports a Hawaiian floral printed leg.
When he was younger, Gooley once explained to someone that a shark bit off his leg.
He gets through telling the story of his leg and his journey to the national team with a sense of humor and modesty.
Gooley was nervous about his tryouts for the national team and wanted it badly, says Maraness. But he never showed it. Right around the time of the announcement, he was very quiet. He hadn’t been expecting much since he thought he would make it the previous year but didn’t make the cut.
He received a call one day before the results were to be announced. The good news spread to his family, and he came home to a surprise party planned by his girlfriend and mom.
“We were ecstatic,” said Gooley’s mom, Dawn Gooley.
He’s always being told by those around him that being on the national team is a big deal. He often denies it and says it’s just about being able to play hockey.
The fact that he came back so happy from his last training camp, Maraness says, shows he purely loves the sport.
“He was just like, ‘That was so much fun.’ You can tell that he just loved being out there,” she said. “A lot of the guys take it seriously. It’s their job. He takes it seriously, but at the same time he loves what he’s doing.”
Gooley began playing lacrosse at a young age with able-bodied people.
While Gooley endured some unfriendly stares and questions growing up, he never let that get in the way of playing sports. In high school, he started playing lacrosse with able-bodied people. Because he likes sports so much, he once became a ball boy at the U.S. Open Tennis Championship.
He’s been playing sled hockey for about eight years. Before that, Gooley knew very little about adaptive sports. In fact, he was very hesitant to try out sled hockey. It was his mom, sports, and his disability that connected him to a whole community of people like him.
Dawn Gooley served as a board member for the adaptive sport organization Move Along and eventually got him to join the local club team, the CNY Flyers. She says his drive made him stand out. His coach, Chuck Gridley, would agree. As soon as Chris Gooley picked up the game, Gridley saw his professional potential.
“He’s a very focused athlete. When he puts his mind to something, he’s pretty determined to accomplish that particular goal,” Gridley said.
Wanting to tap into his potential, Gridley put him on the Buffalo Sabres, an A-level league. He also nominated Gooley for the U.S. Development Sled Hockey team, of which he eventually became the captain. Gooley still visits Gridley during hockey season to play with the team and help with coaching.
Gooley isn’t exceptional only in hockey skills.
“He’s the definition of a great teammate. He’s constantly encouraging the guys around him and never has a poor attitude about anything. His goal is to work hard and win obviously but to also have fun and make it a good experience for everyone else too,” said Erik Ryan of the CNY Flyers.
Gooley owes a lot to Gridley, and Gooley doesn’t think twice about giving back to those he admires. After meeting many veterans on sled hockey teams, he decided to work at the VA as a social worker. He is the only one on his team who’s juggling two careers — something Maraness respects Gooley for.
“You get that gratification at the end of the day like you helped people. When I think back to all of the people that have helped me, like that was a profession. The profession that I found, I currently do that and give back,” Gooley said.
After work, Gooley and Maraness return to their quiet suburban home in the small town of Canandaigua, New York. Dimmed lights, essential oil scented candles, a beeswax melter, a natural salt lamp, and some turmeric tea relax both Gooley and Maraness from their jobs as social workers.
“You need it,” Gooley says. They sometimes get couple massages to release their stress.
“We are all about the Zen,” Maraness said.
Although it was a very much Zen environment, the helmets in the dining room and the hockey sticks and pucks in the living room often turned the room into a practice session.
Maraness and Gooley bought a new house in September and are still figuring out the transition from school to the working world. They once Googled what people do when they get home from work.
Gooley often reads. His rule is “the books before the movies,” so they still haven’t watched season three of “Game of Thrones.” Gooley sometimes watches what Maraness likes to watch, such as “Hocus Pocus.” They enjoy a good kayak ride on the lake near their home and like to go fishing.
Whether it’s going to the rink, practicing in the living room, or working out, Gooley trains any chance he gets. He knows he needs to shape up to be able to play at the 2022 Paralympics.
“He hasn’t reached his potential yet, by a long shot,” Gridley said.