Susie Kluting tried numerous different sports growing up, from tennis and swimming to rock climbing and water skiing.
But above the rest, it was an unlikely candidate that won over her heart: sled hockey.
Kluting was born with spina bifida, which occurs when the bones of the spine don’t form properly around part of the baby’s spinal cord. But that certainly didn’t stop the 22-year-old Coopersville native from inspirationally living her life to the fullest.
“It was tough, especially at the beginning, because I wasn’t in a chair right away,” Kluting admitted. “I had gone through different types of walking, like a walker and crutches. It was hard, especially for my parents then, but they took me to therapy and once I got older and started into the sports through Mary Free Bed (Rehabilitation Hospital), it got a lot easier for me to meet kids with the same disability, to see that I could do things.”
Kluting, who plays with the Grand Rapids Sled Wings for the U.S. National Women’s Sled Hockey Team, received a heart-warming, standing ovation Saturday night at the annual MAHA Awards Banquet for being awarded the 2014 Wes Danielson Award – presented to an athlete who has overcome a disability to play the game of hockey.
When she received the call two weeks prior to the banquet informing her that she was to be this year’s award winner, she was stunned.
“I was really surprised; I didn’t know anything about it,” Kluting said. “I didn’t really know anything about who (Wes Danielson) was or anything like that even.”
Sled hockey is a partner program of the aforementioned, Grand Rapids-based Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, which offers a wide array of rehab services for adult and pediatric patients alike. Kluting competes with the Grand Rapids Sled Wings club, a member of the Mid-American Great Lakes Sled Hockey League (MAGL), a mixed-gender league that has included teams as far as Buffalo, Pittsburgh and Phoenix.
“I had been doing a bunch of the clinics,” Kluting said on how she got into the sport. “It just kind of started out as a clinic and they didn’t really think it would turn out into a team and then they got a coach who wanted to (coach) and fortunately they did get enough people to turn it into a team.”
Kluting said she is unsure of what she wants to study in college, but certainly looks forward to another season in Grand Rapids and also another opportunity to represent her country once again.