Volt hockey launches in Boston with help from Northeastern student

Dylan Hogan knew nothing of volt hockey one year ago. Last weekend in Sweden, the Northeastern pre-med student found himself coaching an inspired team of players in wheelchairs at the sport’s inaugural World Cup.

“It turned out to be an amazing experience all around,” says Hogan, a fourth-year biology major. “The players all really enjoyed it, and they learned so much from the start of the tournament to the end.”

Volt hockey, a sport new to North America, is played by people with disabilities in specially-designed electric wheelchairs made of wood and fashioned with a paddle at the front end for controlling a ball. Teams of three players each compete to score goals while maneuvering their chairs by joystick at speeds of up to 10 miles per hour.

Hogan, a fourth-year biology student, learned of the sport in the past year. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Hogan was introduced to the sport in a roundabout way last fall while taking an honors course, Contemporary Issues in Health Care, taught by Lorna Hayward, a Northeastern associate professor of physical therapy, movement and rehabilitation sciences. To fulfill the community service obligation of the class, he was assigned to Boston Self Help Center (BSHC), a nonprofit organization run by and for people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. 

Since 2012, the BSHC has been sponsoring the Boston Brakers team in the sport of power wheelchair soccer, in which players with disabilities seek to advance and score a large ball. The success of that venture encouraged Kim Damato, a BSHC board member whose family operates the New England firm Rehabilitation Equipment Associates, to secure $61,000 to acquire a half-dozen volt hockey chairs.

Hogan took charge of the nascent volt hockey program, known as the Boston Whiplash. More than 30 potential players showed interest in trying the sport. 

“At the first practice, the players were introduced to how to maneuver the chairs and how to play the game,” Hogan says. “Five of the players that we brought to Sweden first met at that event.”

World Cup organizers in Sweden heard of the interest developing in Boston and invited the Whiplash to compete in the inaugural World Cup Sept. 16-18. Hogan took on the complex challenge of arranging the trip, which impressed Hayward.

“Dylan organized the flights and other travel logistics for a team of seven people with wheelchairs,” says Hayward, who over the years has led more than 215 physical therapy students on international service trips to Ecuador, China and Mexico. “International travel is ordinarily difficult to navigate and currently made more so by COVID precautions. For the volt hockey group, the process was further complicated by additional factors of traveling with gear, wheelchairs used for daily mobility and personal luggage.

“Dylan is both impressive and inspirational in his desire and ability to execute this trip to the World Cup while maintaining a full course load this fall,” Hayward adds. “Dylan is an exemplary student and leader and also demonstrates humility in his efforts.”

Hogan and Amanda Bell, a Northeastern senior in data science and behavioral neuroscience who volunteered to help, traveled with the team by train and van from Boston to Newark for a nonstop flight to Stockholm—26 hours in all. In Gävle, a small coastal city where 22 teams from six countries competed, the lone U.S. entry was welcome with gratitude.

“What struck us was just how supportive everyone was,” Hogan says. “The sport is centralized in Scandinavia—most of the teams are from Norway, Denmark and Sweden—and I think they see our involvement, as well as Canada’s, as potential for huge growth. They know that if it gets to the U.S., it could really blow up.”

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