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Rico Roman's U.S. Paralympic Journey in Sled Hockey
Unlike so many Team USA athletes, U.S. Paralympian in sled hockey, Rico Roman- didn’t grow up dreaming about winning a gold medal. Instead, he took a much different career path, enlisting in the Army after high school, serving in Kosovo and completing three tours of duty in Iraq.
In 2007, while leading a routine mission near Bagdad, his vehicle hit an explosive device severely injuring his left leg. Rico was pulled to safety by his fellow soldiers, but he knew his military career was over. The U.S. Army Staff Sergeant had multiple surgeries to save his leg, but despite best medical efforts, he still was in tremendous pain.
After exploring different options with his family, Rico, who was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, ultimately decided it was better to live in less pain. One year after his injury in Iraq, he asked his doctors to amputate his leg above the knee.
As Rico recovered and learned how to stand again, he kept active. He joined wheelchair basketball and football teams, and even hand-biked 150 miles from San Antonio to Corpus Christi, Texas. Determined to keep pushing himself, the Portland native then decided to try sled hockey, even though it would be his first time on the ice.
How Rico Roman Was Built, Not Born for Sled Hockey
After playing the sport for eight months, Rico’s coach encouraged him to try out for the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team.
“I didn’t even know this was a Paralympic sport. I thought it was just a fun, recreational thing to do for rehab,” he said. “I thought ‘I’m in great shape, I’m an Army guy — I’ve got this.’ I went to the tryouts, and I found out that wasn’t the case.”
Still, his tryout experience inspired him to compete at the next level.
“Even though I didn’t make the team the first time, I knew that I wanted to work hard to make it,” he said. “But I didn’t know sled hockey — I didn’t know the rules, like icing and offside, and I needed to understand the dynamics of the game, like where I should be in relation to the puck.”
Sled hockey requires a different set of skills than ice hockey. Players sit on sleds and push themselves forward with their sticks, which have to do double duty — blades to handle the puck on one side and metal picks for movement on the other. To make the team, Rico needed to master the game.
Rico made the U.S. National Sled Hockey team in 2011, one of the first four U.S. veterans to do so. Three years later, he secured a spot on Team USA for the Paralympic Winter Games 2014 in Sochi. The team lost to Russia in one round, won another round and faced the host nation again for the championship game. Team USA won gold.
Rico's Advice for Aspiring U.S. Paralympic Athletes
Through his dedication, training and drive, Rico reached the pinnacle of his sport, though he never knew it was his path. His success on the ice inspires him to encourage other injured veterans to try sled hockey. His top tip for new players is to give the sport, and themselves, a chance to be great, even when it’s difficult at first.
“I wasn't born a Paralympic athlete. In many ways, I wasn't gifted to be a gold medal athlete either. I really had to work hard and put in the time, both on and off the ice.”
Rico Roman and Other Team USA Athletes Are Fueled by Milk
In preparation for the Paralympic Winter Games 2018 in PyeongChang, Rico trains at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His schedule is intense, beginning at 6:30 a.m. no matter the workout — from cardio sessions and lifting weights to working out with a medicine ball or on a skiing machine. He also gets plenty of time on the ice, practicing hockey drills on his own and training with his teammates.
“It’s an incredible place and such a top-notch facility. You can feel the energy, and I am motivated to bring my best each and every day,” he said.
Working out at the elite facility also helps Rico focus on his nutrition and diet, which includes drinking white milk to fuel his training sessions. In fact, the U.S. Olympic Training Centers serve tens of thousands of gallons of milk to Team USA athletes every year.
“Getting the right nutrients, like protein, is so important — especially before a workout or taking all those hits,” he said. “That’s why I drink milk. It’s a quick and easy way to get what I need for the ice.”
Follow Team Milk Athletes to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018
To learn more about milk's role at the training table on the road to the Olympic Winter Games 2018 in PyeongChang and to watch exclusive videos from our Team Milk athletes, visit Fueling Team USA.