The art of persevering

By Caryn Maconi | March 06, 2014, 2:30 a.m. (ET)
Steve Cash
After perfection at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, sled hockey goalie Steve Cash looks toward defending gold medal in Sochi, Russia.

Steve Cash
Steve Cash did not allow a goal during the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C.

Steve Cash knows a thing or two about perseverance.

At age 3, he battled osteosarcoma, a form of cancer that affected his right knee.

To defeat the disease, he faced the amputation of his knee and the task of re-learning how to walk, this time with a prosthetic.

Throughout his school years, he persevered through the stares and misconceptions that come with growing up with a disability.

It wasn’t long before he was learning how to persevere in sports, too.

“Growing up with a prosthetic there were times that I didn’t think that I could do something, but I had my family alongside me to really push me and motivate me,” Cash said. “Now I like to show people that I can go out there and do anything that you can do, just sometimes it may be in a different way.”

Cash played able-bodied hockey throughout his childhood, but he discovered sled hockey at age 14 through the Disabled Athlete Sports Association's St. Louis Blues. He immediately excelled as a goaltender, making his first U.S. National Sled Hockey Team in 2005.

Cash made his Paralympic Winter Games debut in 2006 in Torino, where Team USA earned bronze.

But at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, that perseverance finally paid off with the highest honor in Paralympic sport – a gold medal.

At the Vancouver Games, Cash was perfect.

He did not allow a single goal in five games, stopping 33 shots including a penalty shot attempt in the gold-medal final against Japan. For his outstanding play, he was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament.

Four years later in Sochi, Cash is hungry for gold again.

In fact, he and the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team have a chance to make history with back-to-back victories, which would mark the first time a country has earned two consecutive sled hockey gold medals in the history of the Paralympic Winter Games.

Cash and his teammates, both new and old, have used that thought as motivation for the past four years.

“I think the fact that we won that gold medal motivated a few guys to come perform at their highest and keep training,” Cash said. “I think we’ve found a few new players simply because we won in Vancouver, and that in itself provides inspiration for guys to stay on the team and really strive to get that next gold medal in Sochi.”

In the lead-up to the Sochi Games, the team has been training together at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs – a rare experience, as all team members play for separate club teams across the country throughout the regular season.

Now, the time has come to defend that Vancouver gold.

But Cash also realizes that the Sochi Games are about more than winning.

“The goal would be to win a gold medal, but I think aside from that, this year it’s different because of all the exposure we’re getting with NBC,” Cash said of the unprecedented 52 hours of coverage the Paralympic Winter Games will receive on NBC and NBCSN. “I think it’s important to go out there and give it my all, and I hope that my teammates do the same, just so we can kind of showcase our sport and our abilities. So aside from the gold medal, the most important thing is showing the world what we can do.”

Cash is the only member of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team who has overcome cancer, but he’s not the only one who has had to persevere through enormous challenges.

Cash and his teammates, all of whom have an impairment that affects the lower half of their bodies, have a unique solidarity when they hit the ice.

“Since everybody has overcome some kind of adversity or traumatic event, it makes it easier for guys to overlook the fact that everyone’s different,” Cash said. “We just get out there on the ice and put everything behind us and just focus on the hockey side of things. We also know what everyone has been through, and I think that provides a little bit of chemistry because we’re able to share those stories with each other off the ice, which brings us together even closer.”

And whether they’re facing a difficult workout or a high-pressure game situation, Cash and his team proceed fearlessly – simply because they are so well-practiced in the art of persevering.

“I like to look at it as just a little speed bump compared to what I’ve been through in the past and what I might be going through in the future,” Cash said. “And so if I have a tough day or something’s not going my way, I can just think about what I’ve been able to overcome in the past.”

The U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team will kick off its competition in Sochi with preliminary rounds on March 8, 9 and 11. The March 11 game, in which Team USA faces Russia, will be broadcast on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET. The sled hockey semifinals on March 13 and the final on March 15 will also be televised. 

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