U.S. Paralympics athletes at home on U.S. soil

By Doug Williams | Sept. 10, 2014, 12 p.m. (ET)

The U.S. sled hockey team won gold in Sochi, Russia, at March's Paralympic Winter Games. Their next major tournament is the 2015 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships in Buffalo, New York.

Adam Page has been a part of the U.S. national sled hockey team since 2007 and has played the last three world championship tournaments in South Korea, Norway and the Czech Republic.

All were great experiences, but there was something special about the first one he played in 2008 in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Playing in front of American fans was a treat.

Yet next year’s event may be the best of all.

The 2015 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships will be held in Buffalo, about 20 minutes from where Page grew up in Lancaster, New York.

Page already sounds pumped for it.

“There’s a lot more pressure on us, and it’s your home country and you want to do everybody proud,” said Page, 22, who’s been a part of U.S. teams that won Paralympic gold at Vancouver, B.C., in 2010 and Sochi, Russia, this year. “I know this one’s going to be especially special for me because it’s my hometown.”

Buffalo, of course, is a great hockey city. Fans support the NHL’s Sabres and games by the men’s and women’s national teams, as well as the Paralympic team.

“We’ve had tournaments or three-game series against Canada before, where they've been able to watch, but nothing to the magnitude of the world championship and the other teams that are going to be here,” said Page.

For Page and many other Paralympic athletes on U.S. national teams, the chance to compete in international championship events at home is a beautiful thing. Lately, it’s seemingly a more common thing as well.

Consider:

  • UCI Para-Cycling Track World Championships were held in Los Angeles in 2012.
  • IPC Alpine Skiing World Cups were held at Copper Mountain, Colorado, in January of both 2013 and 2014.
  • Pan-Pacific Para-Swimming Championships were held in Pasadena, California, Aug. 6-10 of this year.
  • UCI Para-Cycling Road World Championships were held in Greenville, South Carolina, Aug. 28-Sept. 1.
  • IBSA Judo World Championships were held in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Sept. 4-7.
  • 2015 IPC Nordic Skiing World Championships will be held in Cable, Wisconsin, from Jan. 24-Feb. 1. Cable also hosted world cup competitions in 2012 and 2013.
  • 2015 IPC Ice Sledge Hockey World Championships will be held in Buffalo, April 24-May 2.

There’s no one reason why so many international Paralympic events are being held in the United States over a short period of time. In some sports, world championships are rotated so a variety of nations get the chance to play host. Other championships, such as the upcoming cycling road championships, are bid for. And some host sites have such success that they keep returning.

For now at least, U.S. Paralympics and the national sports federations involved are enjoying the convergence.

“We’ve definitely had an uptick, I would say, in terms of the number of events here in the U.S.,” said Julie O’Neill, team leader of sport performance for U.S. Paralympics.

O’Neill said getting the chance to host means a number of positives for the United States.

First, U.S. Paralympics and the individual hosting organizations try to put on the best competitions possible. And secondly, international competitions here are good for American athletes and Paralympic sports.

American teams already are coming off a Sochi Games in which increased live streaming and TV coverage shined more light on the Paralympic Movement. When the world’s best Paralympic road cyclists, sled hockey players, swimmers and skiers compete here, the public profile of those sports and the Paralympic movement gets even larger.

“Whether it’s just building that awareness or providing the opportunity for parents, spectators, young up-and-coming athletes to attend an event of international caliber here in the U.S., that’s a huge plus for us,” O’Neill said.

O’Neill said she and others in the U.S. Paralympic Movement get feedback from participating nations that the events hosted in the United States are excellent. Plus, she said the United States wants to do its part and be “a good partner” in hosting events.

To do that requires having a good working relationship with the IPC and international sports federations worldwide.

U.S. athletes certainly appreciate it, she said.

“If they’re going overseas to worlds they might have a spouse or parent or significant other or a couple family members fly over to attend, but when it’s here in the U.S., a lot of times you get friends and extended family and all the coaches they’ve had growing up,” she said. “The athletes definitely get a boost from having events here.”

That’s certainly the case for Page, who started playing sled hockey at age 6 or 7, and said he would have been excited to get the chance to go out and see the best sled hockey players in the world if they’d come to Buffalo when he was a boy.

He knows that having the tournament in Buffalo is going to raise awareness of the sport and bring sled hockey players from all over the region to watch. When he began playing the sport, few knew about it. Now, many of the people he meets have watched it.

Winning golds in Sochi and Vancouver certainly helped.

“Just being on NBC nationally for the Paralympics seems like that did wonders for the sport and the exposure that we got,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, ‘Hey, we just happened to turn on the TV and see sled hockey. Were you on that team?’ and stuff like that. Just crazy. They actually do notice.”

Next year, they’ll be able to watch Page and his teammates from close range.

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 USParalympics.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.