When the USA Sled Hockey team hits the ice in Sochi for the Paralympic Games this week, four wounded warriors will be among their ranks. To learn more about the team and their road to Sochi, check out this documentary from PBS. But even for those wounded warrior athletes not in the game for medals, sled hockey is an opportunity for rehabilitation and a return to the camaraderie of a team that so many recovering Service members crave. Such is the case for the wounded warriors who play as part of sled hockey teams, detailed in an article from the Denver Post’s American Homecomings series, written by Lenny Bernstein of The Washington Post.
An ice hockey team is like an Army unit, according to Kevin Gaston, an Army sergeant who lost his leg on a deployment to the Kandahar region of Afghanistan. He plays as a member of the USA Warriors ice hockey team, a sled hockey team comprised of wounded warriors.
“I know if he moves the puck over here, I need to be over there to get his back. And if I go this way, he’s going to do this. It’s that teamwork you had, only you’re doing it on the ice instead of in the fields,” Gaston told the Post.
Members of the USA Warriors team play sitting down, on special sleds perched on blades. The players use two shorter versions of a hockey stick, with a blade on one end and metal picks on the other that players dig into the ice to help propel themselves across the rink. Like Gaston, the other wounded warriors on the team come from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. According to the Post, Gatson still lives there nearly four years after a bomb took his left, and badly damaged his right leg as well.
The team has been around for five years, and offers players a chance to forget about their wounds and injuries for a while. The team is funded by donations and travels the Northeast playing other teams of players with various disabilities.
“On the ice, a lot of our injuries go away,” Mike Davis, a former Army Special Forces Soldier told the Post. “Everybody here gets it. They know where they came from.”
Gaston was introduced to sled hockey by an occupational therapist after more surgeries than he can even remember, the Post reported.
“It was actually more of a workout than I had anticipated,” Gaston told the Post, “and it was actually pretty fun. I felt that I was getting much more of a workout than anything I was doing in physical therapy.”
But, Gaston told the paper, the teamwork is the biggest draw.
When you’re wounded, “what you miss most is the guys,” he said. “That team, that team you’re on. Everyone has that feeling of being on that team and knows what that’s like. And sled hockey brings that back.”
Keep up with us here, and on Facebook and Twitter (@WarriorCare) for more inspiring stories about adaptive sports, as well as live coverage of upcoming trials and preparations for this fall’s Warrior Games! You can also access additional photos, videos and join a community of fellow adaptive sports participants at FootStomp.com.