AMHERST, N.Y. (ABC NEWS) – Former U.S. Marine sergeant and sled hockey rising star Josh Sweeney has always had a passion for hockey. Growing up in Phoenix, Sweeney loved to play able-bodied hockey at Ironwood High School.
“You don’t want to be playing football outside in Phoenix so I picked up hockey. I was more of a bruiser. I would go in and grab the puck and give it to someone who knew what to do with it,” he says.
Sweeney joined the Marines right out of high school in 2005 and three years later after scout sniper school training he was deployed to Afghanistan. He was on patrol in the town of Nowzad in October 2009 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. “I knew instantly that I had been blown up. I remember thinking in my head, oh, this is how it feels to be blown up,” he says.
He waited for two hours for his medical transport out of the region. Sweeney ended up losing both his legs and suffered injuries to his left hand and arm.
He was airlifted first to Landstuhl, Germany and later to Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland in November 2009. Last year, improvised explosive devices killed 104 U.S. troops.
Every time Sweeney went home on leave, he would make time to play hockey. “I remember lying in the hospital bed and saying to my mom… ‘I’m not going to be able to play hockey anymore.’ All of the sudden it hit me,” he says.
He was finally transferred to the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio, Texas, to continue his rehabilitation in 2011. Sweeney was still passionate about hockey and he found a way to give it another try. He heard about the local sled hockey team club, The Rampage, and started practicing with them. “I already understood the game and knew where I needed to be. I just had to get my skill level up to the point where I can actually do what I already knew how to do,” he says.
Sweeney’s dedication to the sport has led him to become a rising star in the hockey world. He has played for two years in the Paralympics representing the U.S. Sled Hockey Team. He is now a center for the U.S. Sled Hockey Team 2014. This past weekend at the Northtown Center of Amherst, N.Y., 61 players from all over the country competed for the 17 spots available to play in the Sochi 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in March.
“I live for this. I train for this. I know I need to be better than that guy that’s getting up knowing that is going to be better than me,” he says.
His message for veterans:
“To all the veterans out there that are just sitting on the couch maybe not doing what they need to be doing, that are not really getting out there because they’re thinking about things that they could be doing at this point in life but can’t because of their injuries, find something you used to do in the past, try it again see if it works out for you and if not, try something new.”
Second Tour is an ABC News digital series profiling the lives of military veterans who are doing unique things in the civilian world, including vets who took on an entrepreneurial venture to create a business, grassroots organization or a second career. For more stories click here.