Posted on May 10, 2022
Rising Sled Hockey Star Moves Towards His Paralympic Dreams
Taggart VanderMolen is on the move. He was a toddler when he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP) and began working with specialists at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. Today the Fruitport, Michigan, native is 19. And he’s on the cusp of realizing his dream to play sled hockey for Team USA.
A RISING STAR
Taggart always knew he wanted to develop enough mobility to play sports. Growing up, he wasn’t sure what sport would be right for him. A chronic condition, CP primarily affects movement, muscle coordination, balance and posture. He’s been working with his Mary Free Bed outpatient cerebral palsy rehabilitation team since he was diagnosed 17 years ago.
“Over the years he’s had some of the same therapists,” said Taggart’s mom, Lindsay VanderMolen. “They know exactly what he struggles with. They’ve known him his whole life.”
While attending the Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports Camp when he was 8 years old, Taggart watched his first sled hockey game. Interested, he gave it shot. He began playing sled hockey with the Grand Rapids Sled Wings.
During his time on the team, the Sled Wings had a five-year run where they played in the national championship game, winning it in 2015. Taggart eventually earned a selection as a goaltender with the U.S. Men’s Development Sled Hockey Team.
Since day one at Mary Free Bed, Taggart’s therapy team has worked with a shared goal – to prevent surgery for as long as possible.
“With all the work he’s done with Mary Free Bed, he’s been able to hold off surgery since he was four,” said Lindsay.
Not too many years ago, a CP diagnosis often meant kids would have two to three surgeries between childhood and adolescence. A sophisticated evaluation called Computerized Movement Assessment (CMA) helps Taggart and his therapy team gain insights into his specific rehabilitation needs. Information obtained from this study can make it possible to postpone, reduce and sometimes eliminate surgeries.
“As a rehabilitation team, our goal is to give kids the ability to be kids, and to participate as they want to,” says Jennifer Kampfschulte, Mary Free Bed physical therapist.
TEAMWORK MAKES THE [PARALYMPIC] DREAM WORK
Taggart’s time on the ice supplements his physical therapy at Mary Free Bed. His weekly outpatient therapy visits focus on adapting and getting stronger. Lately, Taggart has been working on his core which helps in stabilizing his balance and stride, but it’s also a key strength component for sled hockey.
Today, his primary passion is getting stronger for the next winter Olympics. Taggart is the youngest goalie to ever make the Team USA’s Development Team for sled hockey. His goal is to be part of Team USA for four Paralympic Games events.