Following the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team’s impressive 6-0 victory over Japan on Tuesday, the coaches gave the players Wednesday off to spend in Vancouver with their families. Team USA will skate tomorrow at 10 a.m. in preparation for its semifinal tilt with Norway at 7 p.m.
The Paralympic Winter Games are filled with inspirational stories of athletes overcoming odds and persevering in extraordinary conditions. The U.S. sled team athletes are no different. We’ve already highlighted Nikko Landeros, whose optimistic outlook and happy-go-lucky personality despite having been hit by a car while changing a tire as a high-schooler made those who know him nearly as excited as the many himself when he scored his first career goal Tuesday.
Take Tim Jones, whose single mother adopted him along with two other disabled children and raised them outside of Philadelphia with very little money. Or Taylor Chace, who once played able-bodied hockey in the EJHL before suffering a spinal cord injury in a game in Ontario.
Captain Andy Yohe is expecting a baby daughter in June with his wife, Katie. In a tragic coincidence, he is one of two members of Team USA, along with veteran Joe Howard, to have had his legs amputated after being hit by a train. And teenagers Bubba Torres, Adam Page and Josh Pauls are all finishing high school homework in between games while competing here in Vancouver.
Every member of Team USA has his own unique story that merits respect and admiration. But the slippery slope from admiration to pity should be avoided. These athletes are the top of their field – the best in the world of Paralympic sport. There are the gentlemen and the troublemakers. There are those who like to talk and those who stay silent. There are some who will be disappointed with silver and others who are happy to be here. These are the same athletes who participated in the Olympic Winter Games just weeks ago.
These athletes, on the whole, didn’t come to Vancouver to promote causes. Any ancillary benefit for foundations or organizations is just that. For the athletes here in Vancouver, the Paralympic Winter Games aren’t a chance to show the world that the physically disabled can compete. They’re a chance to bring glory to country and to self.
We admire these athletes for what they’ve accomplished against all odds. And rightly so. But the participants only really ask for the same recognition that is given to the great male and female athletes who compete in able-bodied Olympic events every four years. These Games are about showcasing the greatest Paralympic athletes in the world. And those watching and cheering have the privilege of saying that they’ve seen the best athletes in the world give their all for their country.