Susie Kluting has used a wheelchair or crutches to get around her entire life, but one could argue that she’s equally comfortable on the ice. Despite being born with spina bifida, 26 year old Coopersville resident Susie has never let that get in her way. Susie has tried wheelchair tennis, wheelchair basketball, swimming, fencing, water skiing, and rock climbing. While she’s always enjoyed being active, she longed for a sport that would really speak to her – that’s where sled hockey came in.
Spina bifida left Susie with limited use of her legs, but she never let her “different ability” get her down. The second youngest of six children, Susie grew up on a farm and inherited a love for animals and cheering on her siblings at their various sporting events. While she loved the years she spent showing rabbits through 4-H, riding four-wheelers with her brothers, and farm life in general, she wanted to find something new that she could do with people who were “more like her.”
At a young age Susie began trying a variety of different clinics and playing sports through Mary Free Bed. Although she tried many different sports and continued to attend sports camp every summer until she was 18, Sled Hockey is the one she excels in.
Sled hockey was invented in the early 1960s by a group of Swedes at a rehabilitation center who, despite their physical disabilities, wanted to continue playing hockey. Sled hockey follows most standard ice hockey rules, except players sit in specially designed sleds that sit on top of two hockey skate blades. Each player has two sticks which are used to hit the puck and to propel themselves.
Northern Physical Therapy has been a big part of my recovery from all sports injuries, and they’ve helped tremendously in allowing me to maintain my ability for the past 8 years. I love the team at Northern! They’re so helpful, friendly and always happy to answer any questions I have. Northern PT has helped my independence as a young adult and made it possible for me to do daily tasks at home, take care of myself, enjoy activities with my family, and compete in team sports – for this I am so grateful. – Susie Kluting, physical therapy patient living with spina bifida
For the last six years Susie has been the Assistant Captain for the adult Grand Rapids Sled Wings, which was formed because of the high level of interest from players who were over 18, which is the age limit for the junior league. She has also been a part of the U.S.A women’s sled hockey team. Susie can even thank sled hockey for introducing her to her boyfriend Connor. They met in 2010 at a sled hockey camp in Rochester, N.Y. and have been dating since 2017.
Because Susie is living a majority of her life in a wheelchair, and is also someone who is very active, she understands that injury is always a possibility. To keep her game in check, and to maintain her level of daily activity, Susie regularly receives physical therapy treatments, even during her off season.
How can physical therapy help With spina bifida?
Physical therapy plays an important role in helping children and adults with spina bifida gain and maintain mobility, and function at their best throughout all stages of life. Spina bifida is a birth defect involving the spine that occurs when a baby’s “neural tube,” or fetal spinal cord, does not completely close in the early stages of development during the first month of a mother’s pregnancy.
Spina bifida may cause both physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe, depending on the size and location of the opening in the spine, and the extent to which the spinal cord and nerves are affected. Babies born with spina bifida often cannot move their legs due to weakness or paralysis resulting from spinal cord and nerve damage.
People living with spina bifida can experience partial or complete paralysis and may need assistive devices like braces, wheelchairs, or crutches. These people work with physical therapists to learn specific muscle strengthening exercises.
We can help
A spina bifida diagnosis can leave parents with many questions and concerns. If you’ve wondered how physical therapy can help you or your child, schedule a free consultation with one of our therapists. We’ll conduct an evaluation and talk about the different treatment opportunities available.