A Lynbrook man who spends more than 40 hours a week — without pay — running a sled hockey organization for Long Islanders with disabilities was surprised with a free trip and a day named after him in recognition of his work.
Bryan Blomquist, the head of Long Island Sled Hockey, appeared in an episode of “Returning the Favor” released Tuesday on Facebook’s new “Watch” tab. In the show, Mike Rowe, also the star of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” travels around the country to give back to people who go above and beyond for their communities.
In July, Rowe surprised Blomquist, 67, by setting up a scrimmage between Long Island Sled Hockey players and members of the U.S. National Sled Hockey team. He also presented Blomquist and his wife with a free trip to Italy.
“I’m very humbled by all of it,” Blomquist said. “I’m just so happy that they were able to recognize my kids, my differently abled, extremely talented athletes.”
The episode has been viewed more than 1 million times on Facebook as of Wednesday evening.
Blomquist, a Vietnam veteran and a retired Lynbrook police officer, took over Long Island Sled Hockey in 2003. His son Brett, 32, has Down syndrome and has for several years played for the organization, which now has more than 50 players with mental or physical disabilities ranging from 9 to 68 years old.
Blomquist’s goal is to make participating in sled hockey, a modified form of hockey where players sit on sleds and use hockey sticks to propel themselves forward, affordable for all his players. Blomquist estimates he spends between 40 and 50 hours a week raising money to pay for equipment, ice time and travel expenses for tournaments.
“When our athletes are on the ice, we like to believe that we make disabilities disappear,” Blomquist said.
Danny Santos, 24, of Merrick, has played with the RoughRiders for the past 14 years and said Blomquist has had “such a positive impact in my life and so many others’.”
“Sled hockey’s an expensive sport, and to have all that paid for is truly incredible,” said Santos, who was born with a disorder that affects the development of his legs and hips. “That’s all thanks to Bryan.”
Rowe spent about a week getting to know Blomquist. He practiced with the team at the Town of Oyster Bay Ice Skating Center in Bethpage, played wheelchair softball with some of the RoughRiders at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, and had lunch with Blomquist’s wife, Diane Blomquist, at Colony Diner, also in East Meadow.
“He’s the real deal,” Lucien DeLaBruere, a producer on the show, said of Blomquist. “He’s all about his athletes.”
Before the scrimmage between the national team and the RoughRiders at Northwell Health Ice Center, Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino also proclaimed July 28 as Bryan Blomquist Day, and Sonny Milano, a Massapequa native who plays for the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets, handed him a large trophy.
Blomquist plans to travel to Italy with his wife next September.
“I was crying,” Blomquist said of the surprise. “That was a huge shock.”