Darlene (DJ) Hemerka
Written by Joanne Costantino

DJ was team Captain when she left the team in 2013 to attend college. DJ started playing for the Wings of Steel when she was 12 years old, a 6th grade student. She played for 9 seasons. Other adaptive sports she participated in were handcycle racing and track. But sled hockey is always closest to her heart, especially when it comes to the support and encouragement of the adults involved in running and training the team. She recounts about practicing how to maneuver the sled, “I remember practicing for weeks with Coach Norm to be able to get upright in my sled, and when I finally did I was up for like 2 seconds and fell to the other side. I was so mad!” Needless to say, DJ went on to manage her sled just fine.

When asked about her fondest memories were while being part of the Wings, there were many. Naturally her first goal stands out, with that puck saved in a display case, but there were funny moments too, like getting stuck in an elevator with her fellow teammate Matt Valentine, while on travel.

DJ’s two sisters are very athletic and both excelled at basketball. When the opportunity to play sled hockey came along, she finally found a sport that she could excel in and also made a special bond between her and her dad. DJ credits her parents’ as the most supportive people always encouraging all their girls to do whatever they wanted to try. Her oldest sister Danielle is the Director of Scouting for the University of Maryland Women’s Basketball program and her sister Denise is a PICU nurse at Hershey Medical Center.

DJ is currently enrolled at Penn State, Dickinson School of Law. When she completes her law degree, DJ plans on practicing disability law, specifically accessibility. This summer (2015) DJ will be an intern at the U.S. Dept. of Justice in the Disability Rights Section in Washington D.C.

It’s difficult to stay in touch with former teammates, but whenever they do talk to one another, it feels just like they are sitting on the ice next to each other, as they did when playing.

We’ll conclude in DJ’s own words; “I made immeasurable gains belonging to this team. I consider them my second family and the memories made and friendships forged will not be forgotten. I consider some of my teammates, my best friends. I have learned how to deal with loss, my best friend Jess (Shaw) and the spirited Michael (Senk), were taken from us way too early, and I still think of them often. I traveled to places throughout the country that I never would have gotten to without playing on the team. LOVED LOVED, LOVED the Amelia Park tournament. This has evoked so many fond memories and made me smile. I hope all players that join this team/family have half the experiences that I had.”