With the Paralympic Games about to get underway, we asked a number of athletes how they found the sport they love.
USA TODAY Sports
U.S. forward Declan Farmer has grown up on his sled hockey team.
He was just 14 when he made his first U.S. national team. At the 2014 Sochi Paralympics, Farmer, then 16, was named the International Paralympic Committee?s best male athlete after scoring three goals to help his team win gold.
His progression in the sport has made a lasting impression on his veteran teammates.?
?I kind of see myself as maybe one of Declan?s long lost uncles,? said three-time Paralympic medalist Steve Cash. ?Just from watching him progress, when he first made the team, he was kind of shy and bashful. He still had some of the baby fat on him. He?s definitely progressed into a fine young man, and I think that while we do kind of set the example for what you should be doing on and off the ice and at home, he also kind of gets it.
?As a Princeton student, that?s kind of a testament to what kind of drive he has internally. So I think we kind of set the foundation, and he really took off from there.?
Cash is the team?s longtime goalie who has two Paralympic gold medals. He was also part of the 2006 team that won bronze.
Farmer says seeing the?players with their gold medals after they returned from the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics was an inspiration to him.
?They were at their first club tournament after the Paralympic season,? Farmer said. ?I saw them play in person and they were so good; I was like I want to be just like them.?
In many ways, he?s developed into that player. Farmer, 20, ranked?No. 1 on his team in career goals with 69 coming into the Paralympics. In the 2016-17 season, he led the U.S. team with 20 goals and 35 points.
At last year?s world championships played in Gangneung, at the Paralympic venue, Farmer led the Americans with 12 goals and was named the best forward of the tournament.
So far he?s brought the same hot hand to the Paralympic tournament, scoring four goals in a 10-0 rout of the Czech Republic on Monday.
The United States made history in 2014 by becoming the first country to win consecutive Paralympic golds in sled hockey. The sport made its Paralympic debut in 1994, but the U.S. fielded its first team in 1998.
Farmer, who is a sophomore at Princeton where he studies economics, is one of 10 returning gold medalists on the 17-man roster. The Tampa native was born a bilateral amputee. He tried hockey for the first time at age 8 when his mom saw a clinic was being held nearby.
?It was the first adaptive sport I tried and I loved it,? Farmer said last fall at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s media summit. ?The (NHL?s Tampa Bay) Lightning sponsored a team shortly after that, and I just kept skating with them consistently for a few years.?
U.S. captain Josh Pauls has watched his teammate?s development since Farmer made his first national team for the 2012-13 season.
?To see him, it?s not just that he?s so talented; it?s how hard he works at it,? Pauls said. ?It?s not a fluke that he?s this good. He?s constantly thinking, what if we try this? Do you think this would work? Hey, what do you got for me? Especially when he was younger; now he?s kind of matured.
?He saw us coming back from Vancouver, saw?the best players can use both hands equally. Well that means?he went out and started trying to use both hands equally. His left hand is even better than a lot of people?s right hands sometimes.?
Farmer and his teammates share the goal of not only winning gold in Pyeongchang but also continuing to raise the sport?s profile.
?When I would tell people what sport I played leading up to the Sochi Paralympics, they wouldn?t know what sled hockey was, so I?d have to explain it,? Farmer said. ?Now at college when I tell people what I?m doing this year, they?re like, oh yeah sled hockey, I saw that on TV in Sochi or one of the world championships. A ton of people know about it now; that?s just going to keep growing after these Games.?