Two Green Berets based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who returned from the Middle East with their legs amputated, are grabbing headlines for a new sport they’re playing.
Brant Ireland returned from Afghanistan and underwent physical rehabilitation in Texas after he had both his legs amputated from life-changing injuries he sustained while abroad. But Ireland still felt like he was missing a physical outlet. So when he finally returned to North Carolina, he was introduced to sled hockey in 2015.
“I found sled hockey about two months after my amputation (when) I was in a pretty low place,” he said. “They sent me back with some equipment to Fort Bragg, (where) we are lucky enough to have a rink there. I started sledding there and then reached out to a couple of guys who I could see could use it.”
Sled hockey is very similar to traditional hockey but is conducive to players missing their lower limbs. Players move down the ice on a large blade propelled by arm strength alone. It’s a good workout and it gives soldiers like Ireland a physical outlet with a team.
— Carolina Sled Hockey (@TSHAsledhockey) March 10, 2018
Which is why he reached out to Rob Pickel, a fellow Green Beret who had his legs amputated after he was badly injured from a blast in Pakistan.
“I never lost consciousness in the blast,” Pickel told local news outlet WRAL. “When I started being pulled off the battlefield I knew I was messed up and I knew it was probably (a) life-changing messed-up.”
But Pickel was far from defeated. After Ireland reached out to him and told him about sled hockey, he was hooked too.
“It was huge as far as physical rehabilitation,” Ireland says. “Mental and emotional.”
The two Green Berets have been playing on the Carolina Sled Hockey Team for a few years now — and they’re doing it successfully. They’re allowed to wear the NHL Carolina Hurricanes’ jerseys and have done so well this season they made it to the national championship, which will be played next month in Chicago.
— Carolina Sled Hockey (@TSHAsledhockey) March 11, 2018
“I don’t even call it a sport,” Ireland said. “It’s more of a lifestyle now.”
Currently, there are five sled hockey teams nationally and is open to all ages and all skill levels. As the sport gains more attention, it’s probably pretty likely to take off in the coming years. It’s awesome to see our injured service members find physical outlets after they return from combat. They deserve all the honor this country can offer.
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