Rico Roman celebrates at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on March 18, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
Earlier this year, two-time Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Rico Roman and family found themselves together in their home huddled around a television screen. They were supposed to be at a traditional high school graduation ceremony, but that ceremony, like many, was moved to a virtual format.
Roman’s daughter, Juliet, graduated high school, and instead of seeing her fellow classmates in person, they watched the high school do its own rendition of a socially distanced ceremony.
After the program ended, they all headed outside, where they had placed a“ large” picture of Juliet, Roman said, and drove around the block to celebrate the moment.
“I’m thankful that I have been able to share such wonderful memories with them,” he said.
This family time is unlike previous years for the Romans. Usually, Rico is on the road a couple times a month — he is a member of the Rampage Sled Hockey team besides the national team — and he speaks at various organizations around the country. Rampage is a professional sled hockey team out of San Antonio, Texas
While Roman acknowledges this is a new routine, he said he is thankful for what it has given him.
The two-time Paralympic gold medalist is already gearing up for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. This would be the third Paralympic Games for the 39-year-old, having won gold previously in the 2014 Sochi and 2018 PyeongChang Games.
While he does have a couple gold medals around his neck, Roman is not banking on the fact that he will make the U.S. team again for Beijing. Tryouts for the team are invite-only this year due to COVID-19. They will be from Nov. 4-7 in Madison, Wisconsin, where 22 players will compete for 17 spots.
The five players who are not selected will be able to compete on the Development Team.
“I never get complacent with my position on the team,” the Oregon native said. “I think I feel our team is really on board with that, too. Everybody is pushing themselves whether they have ice or don’t in these tough times.”
Roman has not exactly had much ice time himself. He lives close to the Oregon border, and all of the surrounding ice rinks have been closed for the pandemic. This predicament has led to more memorable family moments.
He and his son, Raul, took a road trip to Colorado, where they skated for an entire week. They took turns driving, with Raul having recently gotten his license. They also slept in their truck — Roman in the camper they installed in the back, Raul in between the middle and back seats — for the duration of their stay.
“We made it work,” Roman said. “It was a lot of fun.”
In another attempt to find ice time, Roman flew to San Antonio and skated with Operation Comfort, a sports program for military veterans that convinced Roman to take up sled hockey years ago. He is a retired Army Staff Sergeant who served three tours in Iraq.
Off the ice, Roman has used a hockey goalie net and a shooting platform he got from Josh Sweeney, a teammate from the 2014 gold-medal winning team. It’s allowed Roman to practice some skills from his own home.
“Without that tool, I would have really been in trouble, because I wouldn’t have anywhere to be able to shoot at,” Roman said.
He has used a rowing machine, and he modified his skier to push on a rubber track with hockey sticks. But it’s not the same as being on ice.
“I’m just trying to work on those muscles,” Roman said. “I’m working my hardest to be ready for my teammates for these upcoming tryouts.”
Roman said his time in the military has helped put things in perspective and help him feel grateful for what he does have during a global pandemic. In these uncertain times, the Purple Heart recipient is trying to focus on what he can control and what he cannot.
“We had some really hard times when I was in the service,” Roman said. “Losing my brothers in the service is not an easy thing, ever. But yet, I have to go back and continue the mission the next day.”
“I’m really thankful that my family’s healthy, that nobody’s sick, and that we’re all in this together.”