ABC News’ Tess Scott reports:
Staff Sgt. Rico Roman said that when he was first approached to play sled hockey, his response was: “No, thank you.”
“They [a coach] asked me to come out and play sled hockey,” Roman told PBS for its documentary “Ice Warriors: USA Sled Hockey.” “And I was like, ‘I don’t come from a hockey state. I’m from Oregon. We don’t play hockey there. How many Hispanics do you see playing hockey?’”
That was a few years ago.
Now, the 33-year-old Roman, who currently lives in Texas, is the star forward of the US Paralympic sled hockey team — and getting the opportunity to represent his country again, only this time on the ice.
He and his team, which includes three other veterans, will face Russia on Saturday in a fight for the gold medal in Sochi.
Roman is also one of 18 US veterans competing in the Paralympics this year. They make up more than 20 percent of the US athletes and represent the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.
In 2007, Roman — who’d served in the Army for nine years and was on his third tour in Iraq — was nearing the end of his deployment when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb.
“I just didn’t see it,” he told PBS. “It felt like getting punched in the stomach. Felt like getting the wind knocked out of me.”
He sustained injuries to both of his legs but ultimately he decided to have his left leg amputated above the knee. During rehabilitation in San Antonio, Texas, he discovered sled hockey, which became an outlet from the confines of his hospital room.
With sled hockey, Roman skates on a metal sled attached to two blades and can reach speeds up to 30 mph. He navigates across the ice, using poles, similar to the technique used by an expert cross-country skier.
“Being in that locker room was an amazing feeling,” Roman said. “As soon as I entered that locker room and someone said he’s an Army guy, it was like, ‘Oh here we go!’ It was great to be part of that again.”
“None of these other things would have happened if that [accident] hadn’t have happened,” he told ABC News in February before leaving for Sochi. “It’s just a great feeling.”
Roman and his team are also the focus of a new PBS documentary called “Ice Warriors: USA Sled Hockey.” Click here for more information.