Over the past few days the Help for Heroes Sports Recovery Team met none other than Paralympian Rico Roman, who won Gold with the USA Sled Hockey Team at the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympics. Rico , a Veteran himself, is a genuinely nice guy and passionate about the military and those who have served their country. He also recognises the benefit of sport as part of an individual’s rehabilitation after a life-changing injury.
Rico decided to extend the hand of friendship to our team and gave the opportunity to anyone who wanted it to come and train with him and the Operation Comfort guys at their San Antonio Rampage Sled training session. Well, as you can imagine it was a popular offer and nine of our team made their way over to the Ice and Golf centre this morning.
For those of you that were living under a rock during the Winter Paralympics and don’t know what Sledge Hockey is, it’s a face-paced, athletic game that is played on ice in Sleds that are close to the ground, with one or two skate blades on a metal frame that is high enough for the puck to pass below. You propel yourself and hit the puck with two sticks. Effectively, it’s the same as Ice Hockey, but the players are all much closer to the puck on the ground!
Our guys gathered at 08:45 so that we had time to get to the Ice Rink and get everyone fitted up for Sleds, which can take a while as some needed lots of adjustments. At 10:30, it was time to get on the ice and start playing – the overwhelming feeling was ‘this is so cool, we’re playing Sledge Hockey with Rico Roman and Jen Lee Horitius’ – another gold medal Paralympian.
The first ten minutes was spent with our guys learning how to skate, and how to get back up again if you fell over, which is something that happens often in a game of Sledge Hockey. Then, it was time to get into some puck handling skills and some tips on how to weave in and out and how to defend.
Soon it was time to start a game! None of our guys or girls had played Sledge Hockey before but seemed to pick things up quite quickly and were making good progress. Obviously, most people will have seen Rico playing in the Winter Paralympics on their TVs at home, but what doesn’t come across is just how fast, fluid, agile and graceful he is on the ice; it really was inspiring to watch!
After the game there was time for a quick group photo before everyone piled off the ice and headed to the Tilted Kilt for some lunch, which Operation Comfort so kindly paid for. It was the perfect opportunity for our guys to ask questions about the game and share stories of how amazing they thought the session was. I’m fairly sure that a few people fell in love with Sledge Hockey today!
I think that today was another amazing example of just how kind and wonderful the people of the City of San Antonio are; Rico went out of his way to give our guys a ‘money can’t buy’ experience, and was so interested in, and engaged with, our guys and girls and their stories. At the end of the day, even though some are American and some are British, they have all have an insight into each other’s lives and understand the path that each other has trodden. Sometimes the bonds of a shared experience or the knowledge of empathy in a specific situation can be stronger and more tangible than some normal civilian friendships. The bonds that were forged on the battlefield are certainly carried over to the sporting arena, and watching guys that have served together play sport together is a really powerful thing.
Finally, a massive thank to Rico, for without your kindness and generosity our guys wouldn’t have experienced such a wonderful and inspirational day. And, let’s face it, not many people can say that they’ve skated with two Paralympic Gold Medallists – what an awesome and epic opportunity to end an exceptional week!
Tomorrow we start the long journey home, but do check back in for our final blog, which should be up by Sunday afternoon!
Thank you to all our readers for sharing this experience with us, you’re all pretty amazing!
If you'd like to support our heroes along their sporting roads to recovery then you can donate to Help for Heroes Sports Recovery. Either, visit http://www.bmycharity.com/h4hsportsrecovery and leave a donation of your choice, or text SPORT to 70900 to donate £5. 100% of the £5 comes to Help for Heroes. (You will be charged £5 plus your standard network rate. Mobile networks helpline: 01494 750 500)