Feb 11, 2014 1:11 AM by Maddie Garrett

Warriors on the Ice: Wounded Veteran Leads US Sled Hockey Team

The Paralympics will soon be in the spotlight in Sochi, the games start just two weeks after the Olympics end. The U.S.A. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team is not only very competitive, but many team members are also wounded warriors who served our country.

One of those veterans is Josh Sweeney, and this year is his first time on the Paralympic Team USA, and he's serving as an alternate captain.

"When I'm on the ice I just feel this sense of freedom and movement," said Sweeney. "Being on this team is a huge honor to be able to represent my country."

Sweeney said he never imagined he would be an elite athlete.

"That's what makes it so exciting is that it's not something I ever saw in my future," he said of making the team.

He also didn't know he would lose both of his legs in war. Sweeney served in the Marines. In October 2009, while deployed in Afghanistan, he was injured.

"We were just on a routine patrol, looking for bad guys, and I had stepped on an improvised explosive device that immediately took both my legs," remembered Sweeney.

Sweeney ended up having bilateral amputations. The recovery has been long and difficult.

"I feel like this is something that's happened to me to make me a better individual," said Sweeney of his injury.

Sled hockey has played a big part of his recovery. He enjoyed playing ice hockey as a teenager in high school, but getting back on the ice after getting injured wasn't easy.

"I'm out there barely able to stay up," Sweeney described his first times on the sled.

He said it took a lot of practice, perseverance and a new kind of strength.

"While I'm skating with one hand and handling the puck with the other it can get really tricky, at the same time someone's trying to hit you, knock you off the puck, so it takes a lot of coordination," said Sweeney.

And sled hockey is an intense sport. Playing for Team U.S.A. takes it to a whole new level.

"Being named to the team was huge because it really cemented in all the reasons I had worked so hard over the past three, three and a half years," he said.

And his teammates are more than that, they're fellow wounded warriors and still brothers in the armed forces.

"It's great to have them on the team and it's awesome that we can all come back and represent our country in a new way," said Sweeney.

Sweeney is featured in a PBS documentary, along with the rest of the US Paralympic Sled Hockey Team, called "Ice Warriors." It's set to air on February 24, 2014.

Photo Credit: U.S. Paralympics


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