When the 2014 Paralympic Games begin in Sochi, Russia, in March, three disabled athletes competing for Team USA will have ties to the Alamo City.
San Antonio Rampage Sled Hockey Team members Rico Roman, Josh Sweeney, and Jen Yung Lee were selected to the U.S. Sledge Hockey Team.
“To see where all three of those guys came from, from where they started to where they are now, it's great,” said teammate Chris Leverkuhn.
The three wounded warriors were once patients at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center.
In February 2007, Rico Roman had his left leg amputated above the knee after he was injured by an improvised explosive device while serving in the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Josh Sweeney, a U.S. Marine, received a Purple Heart after losing both of his legs in an explosion in October 2009 while serving in Afghanistan.
U.S. Army Sgt. Jen Yung Lee had his left leg amputated above the knee after a motorcycle accident in 2009.
For a majority of the wounded veterans on the Rampage’s sled hockey team, the para-sport has been a type of therapy while they recover from their devastating injuries.
“It's helped a lot of guys that we've had come through the program come out of their shell,” Leverkuhn said. “They'll be closed off, not talking to anybody, just kind of mad at the world. Get them out here hitting, playing, interacting with the guys, they've got somebody to open up to. That's the first step.”
Leverkuhn lost his right leg after an IED exploded near the fuel tanker he was driving. After more than a year of recovery, he tried sled hockey.
“You’ve lost a leg, you’ve had your life turned upside down, you've got some aggression and this is a good way to vent,“ Leverkuhn said. “You get to have the team camaraderie. You get to have everything that we look for coming out of the military or being in the military.”
Leverkuhn said Roman, Sweeney, and Lee each bring something different to the ice. “For Jen, goalies take a whole different mindset and he's just one of those guys. Josh, he's just got that work hard mentality, pushing hard always striving for the next thing. Rico, he's just beast mode. He just goes after it,” Leverkuhn said.
The Paralympic tournament gets underway March 8 when the men’s team takes on Canada. The gold medal game is scheduled for March 15.
Teammate Michael Horning said the entire Rampage team will be cheering the trio on from San Antonio.
”It just shows their courage,” Horning said. “They came back (from injury) and didn’t stop, kept going. Now they're going to fight for Team USA on the ice in Sochi, Russia, for the Paralympics. It’s an honor to be on the ice with them.”