(L-R) Brody Roybal and Jack Wallace celebrate after winning the sled hockey gold-medal game against Team Canada at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 13, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING – Eight years ago, Brody Roybal needed an exemption from the International Paralympic Committee to participate in the Paralympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.
At 15, the high school sophomore from the Chicago area was just shy of the minimum age requirement of 16. He needed three doctors notes to prove he was physically capable of competing with grown men on the Paralympic sled hockey rink.
All the proof anyone else needed was on the ice.
In Sochi, as the youngest member of the Team USA Paralympic delegation, Roybal played all five games and scored twice en route to helping the team to the gold medal, the second in a row for the U.S. squad.
Fast forward to the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 and Roybal, now 23 and in his eighth year with the national team, was as strong as ever on the ice. He averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time per game and led the tournament with eight goals to go along with his four assists as the Americans captured their fourth consecutive gold medal on Sunday.
Yet more importantly in Beijing was the difference in the way he carried himself, helping usher in the team’s rookies while also keeping the veteran players older than him feisty and amped to hit the ice on every shift.
“I think this one ranks higher than that one,” Roybal said, comparing his gold medal in Beijing to the one from Sochi. “I don’t think I really understood the weight of what was going on when I was 15 years old. I was lucky to be a part of that team. Over the years I’ve become one of the leaders on this team, and it’s really cool to now look to the guys on the team like Malik (Jones) and Evan (Nichols), who are 19 and 17 years old, and watch them get to enjoy a moment like this, too.”
U.S. sled hockey coach David Hoff wasn’t at the helm back in 2014, but he has been around Roybal and the program long enough to have noticed his significant progress.
“This is the guy who has grown into one of the leaders on our team and embodies what we’re all about,” Hoff said. “We handed our jerseys out prior to the tournament and went around the room and talked about what it meant. From 15 years old to 23 years old, Brody talked about the sacrifice the people at home have given up so he can do this.”