JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – A wounded warrior led Team USA’s sled hockey team to a hard-won victory over Russia at the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia, March 15.
Former Marine Corps Sgt. Joshua Sweeney, a bilateral amputee, scored a breakaway goal in the second period, cinching the team’s 1-0 gold medal triumph in the nail-biting game.
With that win, the U.S. became the first nation to win back-to-back Paralympic gold medals, according to the committee’s website.
“We all played hard and gave it our all,” said Sweeney, a first-time Paralympian and former Brooke Army Medical Center patient. “It’s great to know our team came together and did what we needed to do to come out on top.”
Just a few days earlier in a preliminary round, the U.S. had suffered a painful 2-1 defeat by Russia, doubling the team’s determination to get more puck time in the gold medal game.
“We knew going into the game we had to play hard,” Sweeney said. “We weren’t going to give them any more chances.”
With a gold medal in sight, both teams remained scoreless after the first period, but nearly 10 minutes into the second period, Sweeney saw an opportunity to catch a pass. Going into “autopilot,” he stole the puck and slammed it past the goaltender into the net, scoring the game-winning goal.
“I didn’t do anything my teammates didn’t do,” he said. “Right after, I was thinking about how awesome it was to contribute to my team.
“Russia played a hard game,” he added. “It was definitely a battle.”
Other key players of the U.S. team were forward Rico Roman, an Army veteran, and goalie Army Staff Sgt. Jen Lee, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and the first active duty soldier selected for a Paralympic winter sports team. Like Sweeney, both Roman and Lee underwent rehabilitation at BAMC’s Center for the Intrepid.
A combat veteran turned elite athlete, the media is now calling Sweeney a two-time hero. The former Marine was on patrol in Afghanistan in 2009 when he stepped on an IED. He lost both legs above the knee and suffered left hand and right arm injuries. At the time, the former high school hockey player figured he’d never hit a puck again.
“When I was going through rehab, if someone would have told me I’d be winning a gold medal a few years later, I never would have believed them,” he said. “I’m still in awe; it’s surreal.”
Sweeney hopes this victory will inspire others with injuries or combat wounds to pursue their dreams. “Anything is possible,” he said. “Just work hard and have fun, and you can achieve whatever you set your mind to.”
Back at BAMC, staff and friends were watching and cheering on the warrior-athletes every step of the way. Many said they were “jumping for joy” after the televised victory.
“We are so proud to see some of our own bring home the gold,” said BAMC Commander Army Col. Kyle Campbell. “The entire BAMC team is dedicated to assisting all patients in regaining the highest degree of activity possible. It’s truly inspiring to our staff and other patients to see what Rico, Jen and Josh have accomplished!”