Paralympics Yield Tractor-Loads Of Experience For Declan Farmer
Declan Farmer celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the sled hockey semifinal match between Canada and USA at Shayba Arena at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games on March 13, 2014.
After weeks of travel and excitement, Declan Farmer’s life is back to normal.
Instead of playing hockey games on the world stage or visiting the White House, the 16-year-old Paralympian from Tampa, Fla., is going to class and doing homework.
“Yeah, back in this routine,” said Farmer, who’s a sophomore at Tampa’s Berkeley Preparatory School.
Farmer, a forward on the U.S. sled hockey team that won gold at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, says he missed about three weeks of school for the Games and a post-Sochi visit with other Paralympians and Olympians at the White House.
“Yeah, it does,” he said, when asked if it felt as if he’d been away a long time. “But at the same time, it went by super quick.”
The Paralympics exceeded his expectations.
“Everything there was awesome,” Farmer said. “The facility, the village, the venue. The whole experience was really fun to be a part of. And winning gold made everything even better.”
Team USA had entered the Paralympic Winter Games hoping to become the first sled hockey team to repeat as champions, following its 2010 gold medal in Vancouver, B.C.
After opening with easy victories over Italy and South Korea in the preliminary round, the U.S. squad lost a 2-1 decision to host Russia. That set up a semifinal game against rival Canada, which had beaten the Americans 1-0 in the final of the world championships in South Korea a year ago.
This time, Team USA won 3-0, with Farmer scoring two early goals.
“We all knew it was a must-win game,” Farmer said. “They’re our biggest rivals. They’ve beaten us a few times this year. The whole team was really pumped up and ready to go, and I was lucky enough to get a couple of early bounces.”
Then, in the gold-medal game rematch against Russia, Team USA scored on a second-period breakaway goal by Josh Sweeney, and the Americans held on for the 1-0 win.
The celebration is what Farmer will remember most about his first Games.
“Just the last seconds of that game, watching the clock tick down,” he said. “Celebrating with my teammates on the ice, in the locker room and afterwards in the village. It was just great.”
Farmer, a forward, was a big contributor, scoring three goals with two assists in the tournament. For the 13 games played by the U.S. team in 2013-14, Farmer led in goals (7) and points (12).
The year before, with the U.S. team at the world championships — his first national team experience — he had four goals and four assists.
Some see him as one of the best young players in the world.
“The sky is the limit for him,” U.S. defender Josh Pauls told USA Hockey magazine after the 2013 worlds. “He is so young and so good. He has however many years to keep refining his game, keep getting better and making sure he stays on top. As long as he keeps working hard, he could be the best player in the world in just a couple of years. You never know.”
Farmer was the second-youngest player on the team — Brody Roybal is about six months younger — but said there was never a problem playing or communicating with older teammates, some of whom had served in the military or played in multiple Paralympics.
The whole team was close, he said, and any difference in age just melted away on the ice.
“For sure, it had to,” he said. “You can’t really think about age out there. You just have to go out there and play with your teammates.”
Farmer said he was grateful just to be part of a deep, talented team.
“We had three lines that could do it all,” he said. “That could score, that could shut the opponents down, that could control the game, really, and I was just happy to be part of that group.”
Since returning from Sochi and also taking part in the celebration at the White House, Farmer also was honored at a Tampa Bay Lightning game, where he got to drop the puck, and at a school assembly. In addition, the mayor of Tampa recognized Farmer in his state of the city address.
Getting a chance to be honored by the Lightning — a team Farmer always has followed — was “awesome.”
In addition, Farmer was voted the International Paralympic Committee’s Best Male Athlete of the 2014 Winter Games. He was one of two U.S. athletes honored, the other being gold-medal snowboarder Evan Strong.
Farmer, who is a bilateral amputee from birth, was first captivated by hockey when he saw a sled hockey team from New York put on a clinic in Clearwater, Fla., in 2006. He then began playing the game and also became a part of the Lightning’s sled hockey program.
“They bought sleds and stuff for disabled athletes in the Tampa Bay area, and I’ve just been playing ever since,” he said.
Now, Farmer says there are no more special post-Sochi events planned, and his gold medal is now safely tucked away. After taking it to school the first couple of days after his return, Farmer — who won’t turn 17 until November — is settling back into a routine.
But, he’s already looking to the next Paralympics in 2018.
“For sure,” he said. “I had such a good time. It was definitely the best experience of my life.”
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.