If you thought regular ice hockey was intense, imagine being two feet closer to the puck and the sticks. It’s called sled hockey, and it’s one of the sports Paralympic athletes will be competing in when the Paralympic Winter Games opens in Sochi, Russia March 7.
Two members of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team have St. Louis connections -- goaltender Steve Cash is from Overland, Mo. and defenseman Josh Pauls attends Lindenwood University. While training for Sochi, they and the rest of their team were filmed for a PBS documentary called “Ice Warriors” airing tonight at 10 p.m. on the Nine Network.
Cash was diagnosed with bone cancer in his right knee at three and had his leg amputated at four.
“It was almost immediately after I learned how to walk with my prosthetic that I strapped on a pair of roller blades,” he said. He has played hockey since age eight and sled hockey since age 14.
Pauls was born without tibia bones and had his legs amputated at ten months old. He has been playing sled hockey since he was eight.
“It takes years of practice and dedication to really excel at [sled hockey],” Pauls said. “On and off the ice you have to be working out, you have to really commit yourself, especially to play at this level. We get guys from college teams and NHL teams, and they might know what they need to do when they’re in a sled, and they might shoot the puck well, but moving is the most important part of the game and it’s really tough to move when you’re not used to using your arms as your arms and your legs.”
Despite reports that Russia is scrambling to make Sochi accessible for Paralympians, Pauls and Cash are not too concerned. They’re more focused on getting the word out about the games and the sport of sled hockey.
“We’re out to show people that we’re disabled athletes by name not by character. We’re athletes just like anybody else,” Pauls said.
Cash said that both the documentary and the Paralympics “really do justice to what we can do as athletes and what our abilities are as opposed to what our disabilities are. I feel like that’s what the spirit of sport allows in this world. It lets people show what human beings are capable of regardless of …the adversity that they’ve overcome."
Kerri Morgan, an instructor of occupational therapy and neurology at Washington University School of Medicine is also a Paralympic athlete. After participating in the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing and the 2012 games in London as a member of the wheel chair track team, she is well versed to comment on accessibility issues for people with disabilities traveling abroad.
Cities hosting the Olympics are required to also host the Paralympics and to make the village accessible. But Morgan reports that there still can be issues such as the ramps and lifts not being very visible or having instructions only in English. But the real problem for Paralympians is travelling outside the Olympic village. In Beijing, there were no accessible restrooms so the city put out port-a-potties as a temporary solution.
Accessibility issues encountered by Morgan and other Paralympians are similar to issues that anyone with a disability may encounter when traveling abroad. In the U.S. accessibility has been guaranteed since 1990 when the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was designed to provide the same accessibility rights worldwide as the ADA provides to those in the U.S. 158 countries have signed it and of those, 141 have ratified the treaty, but not the U.S.
Said Morgan, “It’s pretty disappointing because we’re really here in the United States very much leaders in accessibility especially with the Americans with Disabilities Act and until we ratify that treaty, the U.S. won’t have a place at the table to collaborate or have discussions about how other countries can kind of learn from our model. So we really need to work on advocating and showing importance of this treaty so we can make other countries as accessible as we are.”