In March 2018, the United States Paralympic Team sent 18 U.S. military veterans to PyeongChang, South Korea to compete for Olympic gold. That's just under a quarter of the whole U.S. team. They competed in alpine skiing, curling, and sled hockey, bringing home more than a couple of gold medals — 36 medals in all.
They represented all branches of the U.S. military and have deployed to all areas of the Earth in support of the United States. According to the New York Times, the games are, in a way, getting back to their military roots. The Paralympic Games started off as the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 which, at the time, were specifically for wounded World War II veterans.
Kirk Black is a Team USA Wheelchair Curling Teammate and U.S. Army veteran.
Today, funding for Paralympic athletes is more readily and widely available to aspirants who are also military veterans. Even as the number of returning, wounded veterans gets lower overall, the number of vets on the Team USA roster swells. It's just more difficult for a non-veteran to get a start, considering the support that comes from the Department of Veterans Affairs and nonprofits like the Semper Fi Fund.
But once on the team, they're Team USA — all the way. There is no rift between the veterans and non-veterans. This year's USA Sled Hockey Team featured five Marines and two Army veterans among the 17 members of the team. They took home the gold.
I'm honored and proud to be able to wear our colors and the big 'USA' on the front of our jerseys," says Rico Roman, one of the two Army veterans. "It's great to be out there with other veterans and to be able to represent our country on the highest level of Paralympic athletics in our sport of sled hockey.
Justin Marshall, who is a non-veteran member of the USA's Wheelchair Curling Team, says he would never be resentful of the extra funding available to veterans. They're his teammates.
"Almost every guy in my family served in the military, and I probably would have followed except I had my spinal cord stroke when I was 12," Marshall told the New York Times. "It helps them so I can't be mad at them for it. I wish I had that extra funding, but I don't, so I just try to find another way to take care of that."
The 2018 Sled Hockey Team. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)
The USA took its third straight Sled Hockey gold medal in 2018. In fact, 2018 was Team USA's most successful Paralympics year since 2002.