Rico Roman, U.S. Paralympic star, helps open 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte

By Scottie Bibb | Sept. 28, 2014, 10:30 p.m. (ET)

Rico Roman lights the cauldron at the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte Paralympic champion Rico Roman, a retired Army Staff Sergeant, was an honorary torchbearer for the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte. He lit the cauldron after receiving the torch from teammate Paul Schaus, a retired Marine Corps Corporal. 

Rico roman helped Team USA to a gold medal at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Paralympic gold medalist and retired Army Staff Sergeant Rico Roman — alongside fellow Paralympic teammate and retired Marine Corps Corporal Paul Schaus — lit the cauldron to kick off the fifth annual Warrior Games presented by Deloitte at the Olympic Training Center today in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Roman and Schaus were members of the 2014 U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team that defeated their Russian hosts 1-0 in the gold-medal game in Sochi, becoming the first nation to successfully defend a Paralympic title in sled hockey.

In addition to Roman and Schaus, the torch relay consisted of retired Army Captain Frank Barroqueiro, Marine Corporal Jorge Salazar, retired Navy Chief Yeoman Sharona Young, Air Force Master Sergeant Axel Gaud-Torres and retired Amy Sergeant 1st Class Doug Franklin, Special Operations Command.

Held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and other facilities in Colorado Springs, including Fort Carson and the United States Air Force Academy, the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte is a competition for wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee and supported by the Department of Defense, AT&T, BP, Dow, Semper Fi Fund, The Fisher House Foundation, The Daniels Fund and USO.

Roman says he didn’t think twice when asked if he’d be interested in participating in today’s torch relay.

“Of course, I immediately said yes,” Roman said. “I’m truly humbled to be a part of this.”

Roman said he identified a few familiar faces in the crowd as he walked through the crowded auditorium and made his way to the cauldron located outside.

“I recognized a lot of guys from my rehab at Brooke (Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas), and from Walter Reed (National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Maryland),” he continued. “It was really touching seeing all of their faces, I really felt like I was going to cry.”

Roman says he had a moment of introspection just prior to mounting the stairway to the cauldron.

“Before I walked up those steps to light the torch, I just thought about everybody who helped me get here,” Roman said. “I was thinking about my family, Operation Comfort and everyone that supported me along the way to get to this point. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Started in 2004, Operation Comfort is headquartered at Brooke Army Medical Center and assists injured service members with rehabilitative therapeutic programs including sled hockey, hand cycling, surfing and numerous other adaptive sports.

Roman, a native of Portland, Oregon, and a Purple Heart recipient, had his left leg amputated above the knee after he was wounded by an improvised explosive device while serving his third tour in Iraq in February 2007.

He credits Operation Comfort with giving him the extra motivation he needed to get through rehabilitation.

“After my amputation, they (representatives from Operation Comfort) came to my bedside and asked me to do a 150 mile charity bike ride,” Roman said. “I thought it was a joke! All I could think was, ‘I’m missing a leg, there’s no way I’m going to ride a bike for 150 miles — get out of my room!’ ”

But the offer was a serious one. Operation Comfort was conducting a fundraising event for a local Multiple Sclerosis organization and convinced Roman that he should participate.

“They told me that they have a bike that I could pedal with my arms,” Roman continued. “I was still learning how to walk, but I was able to do it.

“It was the most grueling bike ride I’d ever done — it took two days!”

After his success with the hand bike, the representatives from Operation Comfort were back with another suggestion for Roman: sled hockey.

Again, Roman thought they were joking.

“I’m from Oregon, which is not exactly a big hockey state,” Roman said. “I’d never played hockey. I’d never even watched hockey. I didn’t even know it was a Paralympic sport.”

It turns out that Roman didn’t have to be from a “hockey state” in order to be great at sled hockey.

Though, he admits, he got off to a slow start.

“The coach, Lonnie Hannah, was a national player and asked me to try out for the team,” Roman said. “I figured that since he was suggesting it, that he must think I have what it takes.”

Roman, however, didn’t make the cut.

“I was in great shape, and I went to tryouts, but I didn’t make the team,” Roman said. “But, I got right back to training and tried out again. I’ve made the national team for the last four seasons!”

Roman, who lives in Texas with his wife and children, also enjoys playing wheelchair basketball and plans to compete at next year’s Warrior Games.

“I’m very into wheelchair basketball, and I play at home a lot with my San Antonio team,” Roman said. “There are a lot guys that I know here with this group. For me, it’s something very special to see them here competing.”

Also on the horizon is the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

“I definitely want to be part of the 2018 team,” Roman said. “So as long as I stay in shape and injury-free — and the coaches want me back — I definitely plan on being part of the Games.

“We’re so fortunate that the Paralympics is gaining a following and is becoming well known. In Sochi, we were able to show the public that it’s hockey. Whether it’s in a sled or not, it’s still hockey.”

Roman plans on spending the next several days cheering on his friends and teammates as they compete at this year’s Warrior Games.

“I love the competitiveness of the Games, but I’m just here for the smiles,” Roman said. “I love seeing everybody’s face light up, seeing them play so hard and watching them represent their individual service branches.”

For more on the 2014 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, visit teamusa.org/WarriorGames/.

Scottie Bibb is a writer from Colorado. She is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.