Disabled teen finds spot on DU roster

Pioneers hockey team welcomes local boy


Adam Encrapera wheeled his chair into the University of Denver locker room following the Pioneers’ 3-1 victory over Air Force Nov. 23 at Magness Arena.

Immediately, cheers erupted from the DU hockey team and a chant of “Adam, Adam, Adam,” quickly gained steam. The Pioneers were now 1-0 with their newest teammate — a 14-year-old Highlands Ranch youth who is one of just 500 people worldwide known to have Alstrom syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects every organ in the body with exception of the brain.

Adam was diagnosed with AS at age 3. Legally blind and hard of hearing, the Cresthill Middle School eighth-grader has had fierce battles with liver disease and diabetes, has experienced countless seizures, had heart and kidney problems, had two back surgeries and spends his nights in bed hooked up to a breathing machine. In the past three years alone, he has also had just shy of 20 trips to the emergency room.

On Nov. 19, in a special ceremony, he signed a letter of intent to become an honorary member of the Pioneers for the duration of the 2013-14 season, in which he will not just attend games, but get to be part of pre- and post-game activities with the team.

“Adam is a local kid, likes hockey, is a big sports fan and it just seemed like a good fit for us, something all the guys are really excited about getting involved with,” said DU sophomore defenseman Wade Bennett, who is recovering from an injury and watched the Air Force game with Adam and his family in the stands.

“We are truly initiating him into the Pioneer family,” Bennett continued. “It’s meant to be a friendship. He is one of our brothers now and we want to bring him as much joy as we can when he is around the rink and be there for him when things maybe aren’t going so well for him off the ice.”

Adam has his own stall in the Pioneer locker room, nameplate and all, and was also given a No. 99 jersey. He said he is still getting to know all the guys’ names and doesn’t have a favorite player yet, but so far the experience has been special.

“I’m going to try to get to many games as I can,” said Adam, who can’t hear without his hearing aids and listens to the game on his headphones while at the rink.

A former adaptive hockey player, Adam used to use a hockey stick as a cane when he was little. And while he has spent a lot of time around his older brother Luke’s hockey and baseball teams, he has never truly had a team of his own, until now.

“Every day is a challenge,” said his mother, Susan Encrapera. “When you can balance it with something that can give him hope, it encourages him and makes him feel like part of something. It helps him get through rough times.”

Now, thanks to Team IMPACT — the national nonprofit organization that made the match — and the Pioneers hockey team, Adam has 25 new brothers to help him through those rough times.