Rico Roman was approached several times about playing sled hockey.
The Army staff sergeant was hand cycling with a friend and fellow member of Operation Comfort, who kept telling Roman that he’d enjoy the sport. Roman, who had his lower left leg amputated after his Humvee was struck by an Improvised Explosive Device during his third tour of Iraq in 2007, was skeptical. Once he agreed, however, he couldn’t get enough of the game.
“The thing that got me the most was being part of a team again,” said Roman. “When you’re injured, you’re separated from the guys that you’re like brothers to and you really miss that. To be part of an all-veteran team was something special. That’s what made me think, ‘I want to be a part of this.’”
Roman went on to be part of the USA sled hockey team that won gold last month at the Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. And on Tuesday night, he was one of the veterans honored and on the ice with Jim Cornelison for the national anthem prior to the Chicago Blackhawks game.
“Hearing them cheering like that and seeing our nation’s flag up there, it brings such great pride,” Roman said of the United Center experience. “In Sochi, to see our flag above the others, it always makes you feel pride.”
Winning in Sochi was a thrill for several reasons. The triumph was obviously a big part of that. But so was having his wife, two children and mother there, thanks to a fundraiser USG Corp. and L&W Supply’s employees and customers organized to send Roman’s family to Sochi. Excess money raised from that fundraiser will be donated to Operation Comfort, which helped introduce Roman and other veterans to sled hockey.
While Roman said playing in the games was “truly an honor,” his family being there was the biggest reward.
“With USG and L&W helping my family get there, that was probably the best part, even more than winning the medal,” Roman said. “They hadn’t seen me play on the national level, and to see me play on the paralympic level, it was something I’ll ever forget and neither will my family.”
Brendan Deely, senior vice president of USG Corp., was happy to be part of the cause.
“We’re Oympic sponsors and we’re certainly proud to sponsor Rico, and incredibly thrilled that he and Team USA sled hockey won gold, which we knew was going to happen from the beginning,” said Deely, a veteran himself, with a smile. “Rico really inspires us. He’s dedicated to what he does in his commitment and service, both to the military and Team USA.”
It was a golden ending for a guy who finally caved to a game he now loves.
“I told them no a good handful of times. ‘No thank you, I don’t want to try it,’” Roman said with a laugh. “But they kept being persistent. I finally gave in and I’m so happy I did. If I wouldn’t have tried this, none of this would’ve happened.”