BY TAYLOR LIPSETT
On Wednesday, July 24, the announcement was made. USA Hockey officially released the roster of the sled hockey players who are nominated to compete at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games! After speaking with the general manager and scanning the press release, it is an absolute pleasure and an honor to be selected to represent Team USA at the 2014 Paralympic Games, which will mark my 10th season on Team USA!
This year’s tryout selection camp was the most strenuous, talent-filled and fast-paced tryout I have ever been a part of. It was definitely no cakewalk, and each of the 67 players who showed up to try-out forced each other to give it their all and really bring their ‘A game.’
The past nine years have been unbelievable! There have been many ups and downs, victories and losses, success and shortcomings, and I would not trade a single one for anything in the world. From my first camp as a 16-year-old, sitting back listening and observing the veterans, to now being a veteran with nine seasons under my belt and three gold medals, two silvers and a bronze in my pocket, the journey and transformation as a person and a player has been incredible. But most importantly, the journey is not over! I made the team for the 10th season in a row for a reason. I have a job to do, and that job is to help Team USA defend its Paralympic gold medal from 2010.
The squad put together by USA Hockey is the most talented it has ever been, and the depth on the team is something I don’t think the sled hockey world has ever seen. Many teams have 1st, 2nd and 3rd lines, but the way this team is shaping up, there will be no such order. Every player and every line is “1st line” quality, and could be matched up against any other line in the world. But everyone in the world of sports knows that championships are not won on paper. The ball is in each player’s court now to continue training and getting better on a daily basis, ultimately peaking in March 2014. With a solid group of veterans to help guide the younger players, helping them peak at just the right time, and a great group of rookies on the way to their first Paralympic Games who have the fire and drive to push themselves and the veterans day in and day out, the pieces to the puzzle are on the table.
I can honestly say that I am just as excited about this season as I was when I first got the call that I was being pulled up to the national team in 2004. I will focus over the next seven months on making myself better every day, on and off the ice. I will focus on being a leader, not only with my words, but also with my actions. I will focus on being the ultimate teammate that can be counted on to perform when I am needed most. I will focus on not letting my teammates down, and that is what will motivate me the most! Being a part of TEAM USA is something millions of athletes dream about, and to have this opportunity in front of me is an unbelievable feeling, and I will not take it lightly.
With the fire reignited, red, white, and blue flowing through my veins, and my passion for my sport at an all-time high, I ask you to join me on my journey to Sochi. Join me in my 10th season wearing the USA on my chest. Join me for what will be an amazing year full of unforgettable experiences, hopefully capped off atop the medal stand with a gold medal around our necks, listening to “The Star-Spangled Banner” being played and our flag being raised! The story of my career is still being written, so let’s make it a decade to remember!