Andy Yohe back where he belongs

By Jamie M. Blanchard | March 11, 2014, 6 a.m. (ET)
Andy Yohe
After three years in retirement, Andy Yohe is competing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

The Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games should have been the end for Andy Yohe.

After helping the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team to a gold medal in the Games, and already a bronze medalist from the Torino 2006 Paralympic Winter Games, Yohe retired from the sport to focus on his young family.

“I would have loved to keep playing after that but my wife was pregnant at the time,” Yohe said. “We were just a couple months from having our first child. I had always told her that once Vancouver was over, life would get back to normal a little bit. I would get back to working.”

Just before the Games, Yohe graduated from Ashford (Iowa) University with a degree in business administration.

“You have to start thinking about life after sports at some point and time,” he said. “Being a Paralympian doesn’t mean you have a job for the rest of your life. I had to get out there and start working to build my resume. I kind of knew that after Vancouver, that was going to happen. It was time.”

He returned to his managing a prosthetic and orthotic facility. But the ice kept calling.

“Those are my guys,” he said. “Those are my brothers. I like to be there for the battles against Canada. I like to be there for all the games. It makes me a lot happier to be able to help those guys out as much as I can.”

Sled hockey had been a part of his life since 2003, after he found out about the sport through his wheelchair basketball team. In September 1994, he was run over while trying to jump onto a train, leading to the amputation of both legs.

“The first time I tried sled hockey, several of the guys who had just won the gold in Salt Lake City were there,” he said. “I got to see their medals before I ever got on the ice. So when I first started playing, I already knew that Team USA had just won the gold. It really gave me motivation. I wanted one of those gold medals.”

He won bronze in 2006. Before the team left Italy, Yohe and his teammates had a meeting and a plan to win four years later.

“All the young guys on the team talked about how we wanted to win gold,” he said. “We felt like we had enough talent that if we worked as hard as we could the next four years, there was no way any country could stop us in Vancouver. We definitely had a goal set before we even left Torino. Everybody was really on board to become the best sled hockey team that we could be.”

In 2009, he sold his condo and moved to Rochester, N.Y., with his wife just so he could train. The coach at the time managed a rink in the area and opened it to Yohe and teammates in nearby Buffalo, N.Y.

“Obviously, this goal meant a lot to me,” he said. “I knew what I had to do. I knew that hard work was the only way that I was going to help my team accomplish this goal. Hard work is the best way to go about winning a gold medal. I still feel that the team that works the hardest is the one that usually ends up with the gold medal.”

In Vancouver, the team, captained by Yohe, claimed the top prize with a win over Japan in the gold medal game on March 20, 2010. The team did not allow a goal in the tournament, outscoring its opponents 19-0.

“Winning a gold medal is as great as you think it could be,” he said. “Ever since I was a little kid, I have been a huge Olympics fan, and I’ve watched every single Games since I can remember, both winter and summer. I’ve seen tons of people receive medals. I just always thought it would be so cool to be up there like that. It was everything that I thought it would be. Having your flag raised and hearing your national anthem played at the end of it all really made all the work worthwhile.”

That was supposed to be the storybook ending of Yohe’s career.

“I retired but I had always hoped that I could come back for another season,” he said. “You know, I didn’t know if it would happen. I didn’t know if it would work out for me and for my family, which is my priority.”

Yohe talked to his wife. Together, they decided he should give sled hockey another shot, just in time for the start of the 2013-14 season.

“She was pregnant in Vancouver and we just had our second baby on Dec. 27,” he said. “We knew when we were making this decision, she was pregnant again, and we knew the timeline for the birth of our next child. But she was always 100-percent supportive even though she does have to make a lot of sacrifices for me to be here.”

Yohe is again the captain of the U.S Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. With one game remaining in pool-play, Russia on March 11, Team USA is 3-0.

“I feel really good about our chances in Sochi,” Yohe said. “And I feel like I made the right decision to give this another try. I love this sport and I love playing for my country.”