Having first risen to prominence as a swimmer, Rachel Grusse is emerging a two-sport star. A double amputee (bilateral below knee), she has adapted very well to ice sledge hockey, learning how to stay balanced in the sled and not fall over, while receiving (and giving) hits.
Among a growing group of female competitors in the Northeast Sled Hockey League, she skates for the Connecticut Wolfpack, joining the likes of Kelly Lavoie and Karen Smith. As a side note, other women competing in the league include Kristina Vaughn with New York, and Christy Gardner with the USA Warriors.
Such effort has culminated with the change to accomplish a dream of competing for the United States women’s ice sledge hockey team. In the background of the 2015 Men’s Ice Sledge Hockey championships, hosted in Buffalo, New York, a three-game exhibition series took place. With members of the Canadian and US national women’s teams renewing rivalries, they were also on-hand at the men’s championships to show their support.
During such exhibition series, both national teams take the opportunity to evaluate talent, allowing new faces an opportunity to take their sleds to the ice. For Rachel Grusse, the chance to don the US jersey was only eclipsed by the chance to call Karen Smith, one of the game’s elders, as a teammate. The elation of the event only served to motivate Grusse, who logged the game-winning tally in the second game.
At the tender age of 16 months old, Rachel needed to have both of her legs amputated below the knees (including the loss of her fingertips) due to an injury. With prosthetic limbs, Grusse would eventually attempt other sports such as biking, soccer and skiing. During her time as a student at Glastonbury High School, her first exposure to athletic competition came in the swimming pool.
Without the use of her prosthetic limbs, Grusse would actually compete in able-bodied events. Her athetlic sojourn into swimming would reach a truning point in 2004 when she met Jean Karpuk and became affiliated with the Hospital for Special Care WAVES swim team. Able to train and compete among other disabled athletes, she would close out 2004 by participating at the Junior National Disabled Swim Championships.
Duplicating the feat again in 2005, Grusse experienced another milestone that year. As the first adapted swimmer from Connecticut to compete in the short course Eastern Zone championship meet, an able-bodied swim meet. Building on such momentum, she qualified to compete at the US Paralympic Swimming nationals. Setting a new national record in the 200-meter backstroke (S8 classification), she was invited to compete at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports World Games.
Although Grusse would not qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, she remained internationally ranked by the IPC in three events: the 400-meter freestyle, 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter breaststroke. Considering that women’s ice sledge hockey shall be a demonstration sport at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, it may offer Grusse with the opportunity to make her Paralympic goals a reality. Considering that sport has provided Grusse with health and enjoyment, it makes Grusse a winner regardless of the sport that she competes in.