Neuqua Valley’s One-Eyed Hockey Player.mp4

Playing hockey is one of the most challenging sports to participate in, utilizing a wide variety of necessary skill sets to compete, let alone play at a high level. Balance, speed, strength, agility, hand eye coordination among others all come into play. Which makes the performance of Neuqua Valley senior hockey player TJ Skipper, all the more incredible. TJ was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, an eye cancer that eventually led to the loss of his vision in his right eye.

“I was tossing him in the air and catching him and he would look in a direction and laugh and then I saw a glow in his pupil and I said this isn’t right. So, we took him to an ophthalmologist and they diagnosed him with cancer.” said TJ Dad, Matt Skipper.

“I’ve been living like this a lot of my life. What’s normal to you is normal. I just have a little bit less vision on the one side so that was a bit of an adjustment by getting more ice to the right but I learned to get past it,” said one eyed hockey player TJ Skipper.

Despite the unusual obstacle, TJ developed a love for the sport of hockey around the age of five and has been defying the odds and dazzling on the ice ever since. Now in his senior year at Neuqua Valley and finding success with the varsity team, the Wildcat defenseman is also an honors student in the classroom, using life’s challenges to fuel his success.

“I feel like if I never went through the adversity of having to overcome the obstacles of having one eye I probably wouldn’t be as strong of a person as I am and good of a person as I am because I had to overcome a lot of obstacles,” said TJ.

Once stepping on the ice, it was a challenge he kept quiet for a while. So whether it was as a member of the Youth Sabers hockey team or the blue and gold themselves, the news always came as a big surprise to teammates once the truth was shared.

“They ask me what did you just say? You have what? Like they are just shocked right out of the bat because if I didn’t tell them they really wouldn’t know based on my play,” said TJ.

Now with nearly eighteen years of fighting this uphill battle, being able to play varsity hockey is a proud accomplishment for TJ and his entire family.

“He approaches it like a business he goes to practice every day he never misses and he tries his hardest and he plays s hard as he can and pretty sure that’s why he made the varsity team as a junior because he’s a very hard worker and he doesn’t take no for an answer and he doesn’t quit,” said TJ’s Dad Matt Skipper.

“At the end of the day we took a pretty positive approach with it and just figured that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and having a great attitude about life is what’s really gonna get you through, so we just told him have fun with it you know joke around your buddies about it and he’s done that plenty of times,” said TJ’s Mom, Karie Skipper.

As for his coaches and teammates, having a guy like TJ takes their play to the next level. His confidence and passion for the sport is one of multiple reasons why this senior heavy hockey squad has over ten wins so far.

“I was amazed. I mean he faced a lot of challenges early in his life and to be able to play this fast game with one working eye just amazes me and his demeanor about himself. He’s a good young man,” said assistant coach George Romita.

“He’s always in the locker room, he’s always the first guy there, last guy off the ice always cracking jokes with us. He’s really just in his element when he’s here having a great time it’s amazing to have him here,” said teammate Keith Rozhon

“It really is inspiring to see what someone can do with like half the vision that I have. It’s just nice to see him out here working hard everyday. He’s one of the hardest always on the ice always looking to pick up some slots to improve at the craft,” said another teammate, Ky Kralovic.

Now with more success whether it’s on the ice or classroom, the senior has a message to those who are in a similar position.

“Never let anything stop you, if people tell you that you can’t do stuff just bypass them and keep working hard and you can do anything you put your mind to no matter how bad things might be,” added TJ.

For the time being, Skipper and the Wildcats will continue to win more games and hopefully make a deep run in the playoffs this winter.

For Naperville Sports Weekly, I’m Patrick Codo.

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