Go! Go!” shouts seventeen-year-old Jakub Trefný at his teammate who’s hurtling across the ice rink, raising the hockey stick to strike at the opponent’s net and… he scores! “Goal!” the whole Sparta player’s bench roars, as they try to level the Olomouc team’s winning score.

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Jakub Trefný
HC Sparta Praha player

We are at the Olympic Park at Brno exhibition grounds. There’s everything you might need for an ice hockey match. The cold makes vapor come out of one’s mouth and frosty pins and needles prick your feet but the ice rink atmosphere is boiling hot. The match between HC Sparta Praha and SOHO Olomoučtí Kohouti has been on for ten minutes. White-browns against reds. Even though this game is purely friendly and exhibitive, both sides are far from going easy on one another. Collisions are following crashes and there’s someone lying on the ground every instant. This is no match for “sissies” but proper guys – even though the Sparta ranks boast one girl.

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Everybody on the ice shares the same connection: a physical handicap. There are champs that arrived in a wheelchair. Someone’s missing a leg, another one both. The stories of unfortunate accidents, illnesses or car crashes could fill several books. But this shared misfortune is overshadowed by something stronger – the passion for victory, the drive for triumph over fate and limitations and, most importantly, over oneself.

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Welcome to the world of sledge hockey players – handicapped athletes who move around the rink in specially adjusted “sleds” on thin skates. To get these moving is no easy task even for an unimpaired person. You have to strap yourself i  with a harness and maintain balance, which requires skill and also strong abdominal muscles. The flurry of players chases after the puck thanks to short hockey sticks that have sharp “teeth” on their undersides. The use these to “bite” into the icy surface and push themselves forward, just as is they were cross-country skiing. As if all this wasn’t challenging enough, nobody leaves you alone during the game, not for one second. The opponents will mob you like vultures and will do anything to topple you and steal your puck. The pads under your jersey will protect you from blows and your teeth will stay in your skull thanks to the helmet’s protective grille. You’ll receive no special treatment here.

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Despite all the harshness, bruised ribs, and being black-and-blue from training, Jakub Trefný considers it his dream sport. Jakub was born with a developmental defect in his left leg, which is 40 cm shorter than the other. Not even seventeen painful operations weren’t enough for the surgeons to fix the issue. The lengthening of the thigh bone was unsuccessful and Jakub is able to walk only thanks to a prosthetic limb. But that doesn’t mean he puts himself aside.

He loves life in all its forms. He learns how to take photographs and plays the piano. He used to swim as a little kid and he’s been a part of a mountain biking team called Černí koně for several years now. Jakub considers Jiří Ježek, a Czech Paralympic medalist, to be his great role model and he’s been lucky enough to go on a joint ride with him. “I like how he didn’t give up even after that car crash that cost him a leg as a kid,” Jakub confides about his cycling hero with whom he shares similar fate.

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Alex Ohar
HC Sparta Praha player
Filip_Veselý
Filip Veselý
HC Verva Litvínov player

Until last year, he was pursuing individual sports but after trying out sledge hockey, he’s very clear about how he’s going to spend his free time. “I wasn’t expecting to like it in such a way,” he says even though the first steps were hesitant. He never stood on ice with skates before and initially had big problems with learning to coordinate all the movements. Today, not even a year after his debut among the ranks of Sparta, he’s flying all over the rink like a missile. He fights for every second he can keep the puck on the opponent’s side.

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He sends the puck to his friend Alex Ohar, a boy who won the battle over an insidious sarcoma, chemotherapy, and related consequences, albeit the price to pay was his leg and partial hearing loss. Presently, the rink also hosts a visiting player, Filip Veselý, from the HC Verva Litvínov team, who underwent fifteen surgeries before he was nine. Thanks to unbelievable willpower, support of his parents, and the care of the orthopedic clinic in Ústí nad Labem, Filip is able to walk with the help of prostheses.

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“We try to get all the newcomers to join the game as soon as possible,” says Jan Zapletal of the HC Sparta Prague Sledge Hockey team. Although they don’t chase the numbers, they ended up third in the Czech league, after the unbeatable Pardubice and Zlín teams. The Sparta team has 15 active players and opens its arms to anyone who wishes to just try out the sport. The reward for the demanding training sessions are friendship in a real collective, venting one’s energy through sport, and also the potential goal of attending the Paralympic games, where sledge hockey is one of the most attractive disciplines for spectators. These very days, the Czech sledge hockey representation is preparing for their departure to Pyeongchang. Who knows, the boys who are only collecting their first experience as of now might be fighting under the Olympic rings one day.

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“We immensely appreciate the support coming from ŠKODA AUTO,” says Petra Seberová from Konto Bariéry who was handing over cheques in the rink to the three mentioned talents. On behalf of her organisation, she promotes sledge hockey to gain at least a fraction of the popularity regular ice hockey has in Czechia. If you visit the locker room after the match and look into the eyes of boys who might have lost the game today but their sport gives them a full lease on life, you know that all the efforts were worth it.

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The social responsibility of ŠKODA AUTO

One of the largest European automakers isn’t indifferent to social occurrences. It can’t be omnipresent but tries to make effort on multiple levels. Nowadays, ŠKODA intensively focuses on issues of traffic safety, barrier-free mobility, technical education, support of disadvantaged children, and much more.

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It supports Czech paraplegics on a long-term basis and makes life easier for wheelchair users with spinal cord injuries whom it helps to lead life as active as possible. Three young talented sledge hockey players, aged from 12 to 17, grabbed its attention and ŠKODA supported them with the amount of 100,000 CZK during the Olympic Festival exhibition in Brno, to help fund their further preparations and progress.

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