This past March, the 15th annual USA Disabled Hockey Festival – an event spanning two weeks and bringing together hundreds of young people with disabilities from around the U.S. – attracted another unlikely participant: Anastasia Baradacheva, director of the Children’s Sledge Hockey League in Moscow, Russia.

“From the first few minutes, there was a feeling of limitless possibilities!” exclaimed Anastasia, who landed in Tampa, FL on March 27th to attend the festival. Anastasia’s trip was sponsored by Eurasia Foundation’s US-Russia Social Expertise Exchange (SEE) program, which brings US and Russian professionals to the other country for an exchange of best practices in their chosen fields each year.

Anastasia with a few new US colleagues.

Anastasia originally found out about the program during the SEE youth media exchange 2018 trip to the FIFA World Cup in Moscow, where the SEE team visited the Children’s Sledge Hockey League. She was drawn to apply to SEE’s independent professionals’ program because of her interest in US disabled hockey, as she has extensive experience in making hockey accessible to people with disabilities in Russia.

Anastasia tries out a sledge at the 2019 USA Disabled Hockey Festival.

“It was a wonderful journey,” Anastasia said, “in all respects – amazing people, interesting and unexpected meetings, new experiences, and new knowledge!” During her time in Tampa, Anastasia was able to explore many different types of hockey for people with disabilities: for the visually-impaired, hard of hearing, and those on the autism spectrum. After her experience, Anastasia hopes to bring an entire US disabled children’s hockey team to Russia for a series of friendly match-ups with the Children’s Sledge Hockey League. Anastasia’s enthusiasm matched the festival’s motto: “Hockey is for everyone!”