TORONTO — Paul Rosen, a Canadian sledge hockey gold medallist, is not only a winner on the ice. Having recently confronted his secret struggle with reading and writing, the Thornhill, Ont., native has become a literacy awareness champion.
On Jan. 27, Rosen will take part in ABC Life Literacy Canada’s Family Literacy Day and spread his message about the importance of learning. Rosen will make an appearance at the Hershey Centre, where the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Majors and Peterborough Petes are scheduled to battle on the ice.
Family Literacy Day is a national initiative created by ABC Life Literacy Canada in 1999 to raise awareness of the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family.
While hockey and skating are classic Canadian pastimes, they also teach great life lessons, said Rosen, a Life Literacy Ambassador and Family Literacy Day spokesperson.
“Sport offers tremendous learning opportunities, whether you play the game or watch it from the stands. I will be teaching fans a bit about sledge hockey and challenging lucky fans to take part in an on-ice competition. It’s going to be a fun night of learning and growing together.”
Rosen, 51, suffered a leg injury during a hockey game as a teenager. The damage, infections and pain plagued him for years, until his lower leg was amputated when he was 39. During rehabilitation, Rosen became interested in sledge hockey – ice hockey for people with physical disabilities – and within one year, he made the Canadian National Sledge Hockey Team.
At age 41, Rosen was the oldest rookie in the history of the sport when he played for Team Canada at the 2002 Salt Lake City Paralympics. At the 2006 Games in Torino, the Canadian team won the sledge hockey gold medal.
While Rosen is currently ranked as the number 1 sledge hockey goaltender in the world, he says overcoming his challenges with reading and writing has been equally fulfilling.
After six months of courses, he went from a Grade 6 reading level to a university reading level. He said he was inspired to go public with his story after Jacques Demers, a former head coach in the NHL, who is now a Canadian senator, revealed his own struggles with literacy a few years ago.
“This doesn’t have any boundaries,” Rosen said. “You can be anyone in the spotlight and still have difficulties with reading and writing. It’s not your fault.”
Rosen said his eldest daughter, who recently had a baby, really pushed him to improve his abilities. “She wanted me to go back and confront my demons from school and show myself that I’m capable of accomplishing anything. I did it for myself and my kids. I can now sit down and read to my grandson.”
At the Jan. 27 event, Rosen said he will stress to attendees how anything is possible when you put your mind to it. “Literacy is so important. Reading, writing, education is so important. You can go anywhere in the world by reading a book. If there’s a challenge in your life, take it as an opportunity, not an obstacle.”
He said being an ABC Life Literacy ambassador is a huge honour. “Education was never something I took seriously growing up. I never read books. I was always ashamed of my struggles. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity and responsibility now to get adults to realize that they don’t have to feel embarrassed.”
Rosen is now in midst of writing his own life story. “It sends out the message that anything is possible. Dreams can come true, and to believe in someone is so much more rewarding than giving up on them,” he said.
For tickets to the game at Hershey Centre, call 905-502-7788, ext. 1, or visit the box office. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the puck drop at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.familyliteracyday.ca.