The 2018 Olympics wrapped up Sunday, Feb. 25, but for winter sports fans, the excitement isn’t over. The 2018 Paralympic Winter Games will start March 9.
The U.S. sled hockey team has dominated its sport for the past decade, taking gold in 2010 and 2014. They hope to keep the winning streak alive at Pyeongchang. Returning to reclaim the title will be Texas Longhorn Jen Lee.
We spoke with Lee about what it means to be a Paralympian and what motivates him to go for gold.
Q. How did you first get into sled hockey?
Jen Lee: I got into sled hockey back in 2009 at a military rehab center called the Center for the Intrepid. They offered many therapeutic adaptive sports like sled hockey. I played inline hockey growing up in San Francisco, so I figured why not give it a try at sled hockey.
When I got on the ice the first time, I immediately fell in love with the sport. Not only was the game fast-paced, hard, and physical like stand-up hockey, but you also have to build a good team chemistry with your teammates to beat other competitive teams out there. It totally reminded me of the camaraderie I had with my brothers and sisters in arms that I served with in the military. From that day on, I knew this was the sport for me.
Q. How do you feel going into the Pyeongchang Paralympic Games?
JL: I am beyond blessed and humble to represent Team USA for the second time. I feel pretty good and ready to go! I’ve been training on and off the ice daily, eating right with proper nutritional diet, and overall everyone on the team is mentally and physically ready to compete.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for all the support I received. When I compete, I not only represent as a member of the USA Paralympic Team, but also as a military veteran, a mentor, a proud Texan and a Longhorn! Hook ’em Horns.
Q. Training for the Olympics and going to school sounds grueling. What has been your inspiration to power forward?
JL: My mother passed away back in December of 2014. I took two years off right after the Paralympic Games to clear my head, finished my undergraduate studies and tried to reset myself mentally. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to get back into the sport, as sled hockey has become extremely competitive over the last few years, with younger talents on the rise. But my mother gave me the motivation to keep going regardless how hard it may seem. She’s the main reason I was able to beat the odds and made the 2018 Paralympic team.
Q. How will this year’s Paralympic Winter Games be different from the last time you competed?
JL: When I competed at my first Paralympic Games in 2014, I was nervous about letting my teammates down. But this year as a seasoned veteran, I know my role is to be a leader on the team. I hope my voice in the locker room will help the rookies play their game at their highest level and win another gold medal.
Also, I didn’t take as many pictures with other athletes from different countries last time. This year I will definitely take a lot of pictures and simply enjoy every single moment while I’m there!
Q. What advice would you give to aspiring Paralympians?
JL: I would tell them the road to become a Paralympian for some of you may not be an easy journey. You will experience more failures than success, but you have to continue to push yourself and always outplay your competition. Set your bar high, and step out of the comfort zone. Believe anything is possible because in the end, it is up to you. And HAVE FUN!