Jen Lee, a Taiwan-born US Army staff sergeant, believes his military discipline will be invaluable for the defending men’s US sledge ice hockey team at the Sochi Paralympics.
The 27-year-old netminder, who had his left leg amputated above the knee after a March 2009 motorcycle accident in Florida, helped the US team win the 2012 world title and finish second last year.
“When you’re going through therapy, the last thing on your mind is to think that you will be a disabled athlete,” Lee told the US Paralympic team Web site ahead of tomorrow’s opening game in Sochi.
“It helped me go through rehab, but I didn’t know I could be on a national team,” he added.
Lee, who was motivated to join the US Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington, says military service helped him develop discipline and mental toughness that benefits him on and off the ice.
“The discipline really comes in handy,” Lee said. “I have plenty of reasons to give up. But the military teaches us, and me especially, not to quit.”
After his injury, Lee was introduced to sledge hockey by Operation Comfort, an organization based at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, dedicated to assisting US military service personnel rehabilitating at nearby Brooke Army Medical Center.
Lee, who had competed in high-school inline skating events, joined the San Antonio Rampage, a sledge hockey squad of military veterans.
“We all know what we’ve got to do to prepare, go out there like it’s a battlefield,” Lee told the Operation Comfort Web site. “It’s almost the same thing, except you’re not getting shot at. Except for me.”
“I guess you’ve got to be weird to stop pucks, but I really enjoy it,” he added.
Lee, an active duty soldier through January next year, was selected for the US Paralympic team and works out of the US Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which has produced numerous Olympians and Paralympians.
The Americans seek their third crown in six Winter Paralympics and could become the first back-to-back champions.
They open group play against Italy tomorrow, then face South Korea on Sunday and hosts Russia on Tuesday.
Medal semi-finals are scheduled for Thursday next week, with medal games on March 15.
While Lee dreams of gold, he also wants to raise awareness for his sport, a full-contact game where players are on double-bladed seats and use two short sticks, each with spiked top edges to allow players to push into the ice to move faster.
“My biggest motivation is just to surprise people,” Lee said. “It’s important for us to show this is not some easy sport or no-contact sport, that you can do anything, disabled or not.”