BY TAYLOR LIPSETT
The journey has finally come to this! Boarding a plane bound for Sochi, Russia. It has been a journey within journeys to get to this point. For some of the younger guys on the team like Declan Farmer, Josh Pauls, Brody Roybal and Dan McCoy, the journey started when they were 7 or 8 years old, when they first dreamed of being a U.S. Paralympian and wearing that red, white and blue jersey at the Paralympic Games. For our military veterans (Josh Sweeney, Rico Roman, Paul Schaus and Jen Lee) perhaps this journey started when they got out of the rehab hospital where they were first introduced to sled hockey after being injured; the journey to be able to represent their country again, in a different way, but one that is perhaps just as meaningful. And for myself, the journey really dates back to 1992 when I was 5 years old with doctors leaning over my hospital bed telling me I would never be able to play sports. They told me that it was too risky to participate in anything too physical because I have brittle bones. No matter where ours journeys began, we have each risen above major obstacles and overcome extraordinary adversity, and we have each ended up at the pinnacle of the sport of sled hockey!
We began our journey together, as Team USA, last July with one goal: to play for a gold medal on March 15, 2014. It has been a great season, a season with lots of ups and a few downs; some great wins, and some devastating losses. But most importantly, we have each gotten better every day, and our ultimate goal is in sight! What amazes me most about the team we have heading to Sochi today is the dedication. We have each dedicated this season to each other, and promised each other to make ourselves better every day, no matter what the sacrifice might be. For 11 of us, that meant leaving our friends and family, wives and girlfriends, putting our education on hold, and moving to Colorado Springs, Colo., in January to spend the last two months training together twice a day to make sure we are ready to go when we land in Sochi. For those of us who could not move due to full-time jobs or high school obligations, we had to make sure we were doing everything we could to keep pace with the 11 guys in Colorado. Even though we were home, we still had to sacrifice countless hours with friends and family so we could train. For myself that meant waking up at 4:30 a.m. every day and being on the ice or in the gym by 5:30 a.m., then going to work for eight-plus hours, and then heading back to the rink or gym to get another training session in. I know that is the same schedule that most of the other guys who couldn’t move to Colorado kept as well, although a couple of guys like Brody and Declan replaced work with high school and homework. The bottom line is: the level of dedication and willingness to sacrifice by every player on this team so that we could all fulfill a promise that we made to each other and to accomplish a collective goal is unmatched by any team I have ever been a part of. I could not imagine or ask for 16 better teammates.
Now we begin the last leg of the journey. As we depart from Denver as a team heading to Sochi, Russia, all of our journeys have merged and our ultimate goal is in sight. The end result is in our hands now, and we must trust each other to get it done. We have put in the work. We have made the sacrifices. Now it is time to make it happen!