Space Coast Iceplex’s Karina Villegas Overcomes Tragedy to Become World-Class Sled Hockey Player
By Maria Sonnenberg // April 17, 2022
As a latecomer to Sled hockey, Coaches were dumbfounded at Villegas’ natural ability for the fast-growing sport
ABOVE VIDEO: 2020 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame’s Karina Villegas.
A member of the Women’s National Para Ice Hockey Team, the 5-foot-6-inch forward helped the team take the championship against Canada in 2018
To make a nomination for the Class of 2022 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME, call 321-615-8111 or e-mail Contact@SpaceCoastDaily.com.
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Growing up in Venezuela, Karina Villegas never really gave ice hockey much thought.
“We learned about hockey at school, but nobody played it,” said Villegas.
Fast forward a couple of decades and Villegas now knows a lot about hockey, particularly sled hockey, an extremely challenging form of the sport.
In fact, she is a star player for the Space Coast Blast, the area’s sled hockey team.
Designed by Swedish athletes with disabilities, sled hockey follows traditional hockey’s rules, but players sit on a tiny sled while propelling themselves through the ice using hockey sticks with metal pics. It’s fast, furious and for Villegas, lots of fun.
How does a girl from Venezuela end up as part of the USA Women’s Development Team?
The former open water swimmer was a young adult when a car driven by a Venezuelan government official ran her over, resulting in the amputation of her right leg. The driver was drunk, speeding, and failed to stop at an intersection.
Villegas almost died because her femoral artery was cut. It did not stop her from swimming.
“In 1998, I became the first disabled athlete to swim long distance open waters marathons in my native Venezuela,” said Karina.
For training, she swam five kilometers to an island and back each weekend. She attempted to swim the junction of the Orinoco and Caroni Rivers, a dangerous endeavor.
Villegas had to leave Venezuela because it was no longer safe for her to remain there. She emigrated to the United States, where she works in the nonprofit sector.
Sled hockey came into her life after her nine-year-old daughter, Mily, wanted to learn ice skating, so Villegas ferried her from their home in Sebastian to the IcePlex in Rockledge.
While Mily practiced skating, her mother discovered sled hockey. Coaches were dumbfounded at Villegas’ natural ability at the sport.
At 45, Villegas is the “elder stateswoman” of the Blast, which counts players as young as 14. She is one of three female players.
Karina’s hockey career highlights include three Southeastern League titles with the Blast, 2018 and 2019 Tier III and IV National Championships at NHL Sled Classic with the Blast.
A member of the Women’s National Para Ice Hockey Team, the 5-foot-6-inch forward helped the team take the championship against Canada in 2018 and will be defending the title in September 2020 in Las Vegas.
Sled hockey has taken her around the world, from Nashville to Norway and from Puerto Rico to Sweden.
Although Villegas knows her playing days will come to an end sooner than she would have wanted, she nevertheless plans to be back on the ice next season, having a blast with the Blast.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said.
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT 2022 SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME INDUCTION, call 321-323-4460 or 321-615-8111 or e-mail Contact@SpaceCoastDaily.com.
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS
CLICK HERE TO SEE MEMBERS OF THE SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
The Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame selection committee announced the induction of both the 2020 and 2021 classes will take place on Friday, May 13 at the Cocoa Beach Country Club. The induction of both classes were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The festivities include a Meet and Greet with the area’s sports royalty beginning at 6 p.m., and the dinner and induction proceeding will start at 6:45 p.m. and includes compelling video tributes of each of the inductees.
The Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame induction event will also include the Brevard County High School Breakfast of Champions recognition awards, which will be held Friday, May 13 from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m., also at the Cocoa Beach Country Club, to kick off morning and evening events honoring the area’s outstanding athletes, coaches, administrators and sports celebrities.
The Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner will be held on the evening of May 13, with a Meet and Greet at 6 p.m. and dinner and program at 7 p.m. The Meet and Greet will include an opportunity to talk with the area’s sports royalty, followed by dinner and the induction proceeding, which includes compelling video tributes of each of the inductees.
During the Breakfast of Champions, more than 40 awards will be presented to the best of the best student-athletes.
Businesses and individuals looking to support these outstanding youth and prep athletes can sponsor an award for $500 and includes recognition during the awards event and in the program.
As a sponsor, an invitation will be extended to you and up to four guests to join the festivities for the breakfast. You’ll be seated with the recipient of your award and their family, which is a great chance to meet these talented athletes and get to know them on a personal level. For information about the Brevard County Breakfast of Champions call 321-615-8111 or e-mail Contact@SpaceCoastDaily.com.
Both the Breakfast of Champions and the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame events will be streamed live on Space Coast Daily TV.
The 2020–2021 Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame induction event, and the Brevard County High School Breakfast of Champions recognition awards, are sponsored by Health First, Erdman Automotive, All Points, Clear Choice Health Care, Savings Safari, Friday Night Locker Room and Rock Paper Simple.
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS to the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony. For information e-mail Contact@SpaceCoastDaily.com or call 321-615-8111.
INDUCTEES SELECTED IN FOUR CATEGORIES
Dozens of nominees were considered for the 2020 and 2021 classes in several categories including professional sports, college sports, high school sports and amateur sports.
Nominees are chosen in four categories including professional sports, college sports, high school sports and amateur sports. Special honorary recognition is also bestowed upon individuals and groups that have made significant contributions to sports on the Space Coast.
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2021:
■ PROFESSIONAL CATEGORY INDUCTEE: Amber Torrealba, Skimboarding; Randy Pobst, Auto racing
■ COLLEGE CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Lynisha Nelson, Basketball; Bryan Cook, Baseball; Steve Freeman, Soccer
■ PREP CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Julie Wollrath, Cross Country; Kaira Simmons, Track & Field; Cameron Harris, Jr., Football
■ AMATEUR/RECREATION CATEGORY INDUCTEE: Alli Penovich, Free Diving
■ COACHING CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Lee Mace, Football; Jim Oler, Basketball
■ SPORTS OFFICIAL INDUCTEE: Klaus Stafe
■ SPORTS JOURNALISM INDUCTEE: Capt. Eric Ciocher
■ SPORTS DEVELOPMENT INDUCTEE: Charles Clemente
■ LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT INDUCTEE: Larry Garrison
■ SPORTS AMBASSADOR AWARD INDUCTEE: Rusty Buchanan
■ CHALLENGER AWARD INDUCTEE: Jordan Episcopo
■ TEAM OF THE YEAR: Astronaut High School Bowling
■ LEGACY CHAMPIONS: Merritt Island Baseball, 1999-2000
■ SPECIAL TRIBUTE: Fred Gay
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS TO THE INDUCTION CEREMONY
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE 2021 INDUCTEES PROFILES
SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME CLASS OF 2020
• PROFESSIONAL CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Jamel Dean, Football; Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Wrestling; Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Football; Mark Lake, Skateboarding; Jawaan Taylor, Football
• COLLEGE CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Derek Hamm, Football; Paulette King, Basketball; Dylan Lewis, Soccer; Melanie Murphy, Softball
• PREP CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Lexy Denaburg, Volleyball; Apryl Bigham Nickson, Swimming; Andi Sellers, Soccer
• AMATEUR/RECREATION CATEGORY INDUCTEE: Peter Blount, Track & Field; Karina Villegas, Sled Hockey; Caylor Williams, Wrestling
• COACHING CATEGORY INDUCTEES: Sean Ballard, Wrestling; Doug Butler, Cross Country and Track; Aubin Goporo, Basketball; Gerald Hodgin, Football; Bill Sinclair, Softball; Don Smith, Basketball
• SPORTS DEVELOPMENT INDUCTEE: Loren McClanahan
• LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT INDUCTEE: Clint Hurdle
• SPORTS OFFICIAL INDUCTEES: Ted Ruta
• SPORTS JOURNALISM INDUCTEES: Steve Vaughn
• SPORTS DEVELOPMENT INDUCTEE: Judge A.B. Majeed
• SPORTS AMBASSADOR AWARD INDUCTEE: Congressman Bill Posey
• CHALLENGER AWARDS INDUCTEES: Brevard Special Olympics
• TEAM OF THE YEAR: Satellite High Cross Country
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE 2020 INDUCTEES PROFILES
Space Coast Daily created the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 and has so far inducted more than 200 of Brevard County’s most outstanding athletes, coaches and sports personalities.
Serving on the committee are Space Coast Daily President & Publisher Tom Palermo, Partner Giles Malone, Editor-in-Chief Dr. Jim Palermo, Managing Editor Zach Clark, the Friday Night Locker Room’s Steve Wilson and Orville Susong, Sports Editor Juan Rodriguez, Social Media Director Matt O’Hern, Assistant Editor Jordan Rocco, Digital Producers Ron Lighthall, Gavin Keith and Michael Malone, Production Director Brian Dillon, Sports Broadcaster Daryl Durand and Amateur Athletic Union President Rusty Buchanan.
The main athletic building on the Melbourne Campus hosts the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame, as portraits of the Hall of Famers are displayed on the wall in the building’s main hallway that runs parallel to the gym and outside the athletic department offices.
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS TO THE INDUCTION CEREMONY
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE MEMBERS OF THE SPACE COAST SPORTS HALL OF FAME
SPACE COAST DAILY TV: Tim Wakefield talks about his induction into the first class of the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame. Space Coast Daily created the Space Coast Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 and has so far inducted more than 200 of Brevard County’s most outstanding athletes, coaches and sports personalities.