Team USA Sled Hockey Goalie Returns to Sort He Loves
Growing up in California, Jen Lee enjoyed his short time as a goaltender.
“Hockey didn't last long in my childhood because it wasn't a popular sport in California. Many schools, including mine, removed the hockey program completely,” he said on TeamUSA.org.
In 2009, the Army veteran had his left leg amputated above the knee after being injured in a motorcycle accident. That’s when sled hockey came into his life by Operation Comfort, which is an organization that helps injured service personnel at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. He is now playing in his third Paralympics in the Beijing Games, going for second goal medal.
“Jen’s story is important to others, because he was able to go back to the sport he loves thanks to Operation Comfort, which is doing great work in the San Antonio area,” said Alan Hubbard, NTI’s Chief Operating Officer. A nonprofit with more than 25 years' experience, NTI has been helping Americans with disabilities, including veterans, find remote working opportunities with free job training and job placement assistance.
“He is a very popular spokesperson for the sport and for the Paralympics,” said Hubbard.
Lee says there are people out there who don’t know about sled hockey.
“When I tell people I play para ice hockey for the U.S. national team, they assume I played in the NHL or somewhere professional. As soon as they see my prosthetic leg, the next question they usually ask is, ‘How are you playing hockey with a prosthetic leg?’ They don’t really process or acknowledge the word “sled” or "para" a lot,” he said on the Team USA website.
“I think the biggest misconception about Paralympics in general is that some people still mistakenly think that we’re the Special Olympics. Sometimes people think sled hockey is a sport that we play in a wheelchair. When they find out it’s not wheelchair hockey, they can’t picture what a sled is so they think it’s a special sled and they call it special hockey. That terminology then leads people to think it is the Special Olympics.”
Being part of Team USA allows Lee to improve awareness of disabilities around the world and get the same feeling he had while in the service.
“For me, being part of Team USA gives me the ability not only to represent my country,” said Lee, on the Team USA’s website, “but I also value the camaraderie of all my teammates. I was a military service veteran prior to being hurt, and the chemistry and the bond that we've created on and off the ice with my teammates is something I will never forget. It brought back a similar joy of competing and validation that I can represent my country in a different way. In the end, it's about the memories we've created together, good, or bad. Luckily for us, we’ve been very fortunate that we’re able to create a lot of good memories.”
The United States defeated South Korea, 9-1, in the preliminary round final and now will move on to the semifinals on March 11. Team USA also beat Canada, 5-0.
(NTI has been helping Americans with disabilities, including veterans, find at-home jobs, working remotely with free job training and job placement services. Go to www.ntiathome.org for more information.)
“I think the biggest misconception about Paralympics, in general, is that some people still mistakenly think that we’re the Special Olympics. Sometimes people think sled hockey is a sport that we play in a wheelchair…”