ST. LOUIS – Three-time Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Josh Pauls was a hit during his Wednesday appearance at the Herbert Hoover Club with the Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis as part of the United States Olympic Committee’s Team for Tomorrow program.
But in terms of attention, Pauls would probably have received the silver medal from the large group of youngsters at the event.
It was his three gold medals that were the biggest hit at Herbert Hoover, which is located at the former site of Sportsman's Park, the home of the St. Louis Cardinals until 1966.
“He was awesome and I really enjoyed everything he was talking about,” said 14-year-old Bobby Snyder. “But seeing those gold medals and being able to touch them was awesome.”
Pauls had his gold medal from the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 at his home in south St. Louis County. His mom recently delivered his gold medal from Sochi in 2014 and his 2010 gold medal from Vancouver on her visit from Pauls' native New Jersey.
The unique show-and-tell caught the attention of the children.
“They were pretty heavy,” said 12-year-old Heaven Brooks. “It was cool seeing them but I also liked him telling his stories.”
Pauls talked about being born without tibia bones in both legs and having his legs amputated when he was just 10 months old.
“I was a happy-go-lucky kid who just had a different way of moving around,” Pauls said. “Everyone is going to have to overcome adversity in their lives. If you work hard at it, you will be successful.”
Pauls related being the youngest member of the 2010 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team at 17 and eventually becoming the captain of the gold medal-winning team in 2018 at his current age of 25.
He talked about the feeling of winning this year in dramatic fashion.
“We lost our coach, Coach (Jeff) Sauer, who was like a father and grandfather to all the guys on the team,” Pauls said. “We lost in the world championships and we were down in the gold-medal game to Canada, 1-0, with just a minute left. We did not have a goalie in the net and they hit the post on an empty net. We came back and scored with about 30 seconds left and then won in the first four minutes of overtime. We were so glad to win it for Coach Sauer, who did so much for our program and our sport.”
Team for Tomorrow is the USOC’s community outreach program through which Olympians and Paralympians give back to communities, offer their assistance and support to those in need around the world, and spread the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. Pauls is one of 14 athlete ambassadors for the 2017-18 campaign.
There were a few questions from the children concerning hockey, including how many goals he had scored at the Paralympic Games (the defenseman had one in 15 games). But there were very few who raised their hands when asked if they were fans of the sport or had even watched sled hockey.
But there were plenty of questions about those gold medals, which were passed around under heavy guard by employees of Herbert Hoover.
Josh Pauls poses with children from the Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis, as a part of the Team for Tomorrow program, on June 20, 2018 in St. Louis.
The second overall question asked about the weight of the medals.
“I think when you add all three, they would weight about six or seven pounds,” Pauls said.
And, of course, the value of the medals was on the mind of many.
“I understand they are worth about $15,000,” Pauls said. “But the sentimental value to me is priceless.”
Pauls, who graduated from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, in 2016 with a degree in sports management, is currently working in outside sales with FTL Finance in St. Charles.
He still plays with the Disabled Athlete Sports Association (DASA) St. Louis Blues with fellow gold medalists Steve Cash and Billy Hanning. He will be traveling to Buffalo, New York, in July to try out again for the national team.
Following the Q&A, Pauls led an exercise session with the youngsters but also talked about what it takes to become successful, whether it be in sports or other phases of life.
“Nothing in life is easy,” Pauls said. “You just need to surround yourself with great people and see what the fruits of labor is like. It takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice to be successful.”
Pauls, who is also a three-time world champion with Team USA (2009, 2012 and 2015) posed with the kids for a group photo to end the hour-long program.
“It was great,” Pauls said as he walked out of the venue with his three gold medals in hand. “You don't need them to be hockey fans to relate to these kids. They were great and it was an honor to talk to them.”
Boys & Girls Club of Greater St. Louis Manager Fe’Dale Waters was impressed with the hour that Pauls spent at the club.
“It was eye-opening for our club members,” Waters said. “I think they all enjoyed his stories and they absolutely loved holding those gold medals.”