Rico Roman was on his third tour of duty in Iraq on that afternoon in 2007 when a roadside bomb detonated under his Humvee.
“I just wasn’t lucky that day,” says the 37-year-old Portland, Oregon, native, whose left leg was so mangled in the explosion that doctors were forced to amputate it above the knee.
But within months of the accident, the high school multi-sport athlete, who never had the slightest interest in hockey, became “hooked” on sled hockey and is now helping Team USA in its quest for gold at the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“I’m looking forward to doing my part for my team to bring home another gold medal,” says Roman, who helped win gold against the Russians at the 2014 Paralympics, and will be leading the charge against Italy in the semifinals on Friday.
“I’m a little older than I was in Sochi, and the team is a little younger, but that same chemistry is still there and guys’ work ethic is unbelievable. Everybody’s doing their part.”
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Roman was in the thick of it on February 22, 2007 — doing his part in the fight in Iraq with a month to go in his last tour — when his life was forever changed.
The now-retired Army staff sergeant had just finished working a security checkpoint and was returning to base in the lead vehicle when he heard an explosion and felt “like someone had punched him in the stomach.”
It wasn’t until he tried pulling himself out of the overturned Humvee that he noticed that his legs felt strangely “heavy.”
“I remember looking down and seeing that a bone was sticking out of my leg and I knew I was out of the fight,” he recalls.
Doctors were able to save his leg, but it would no longer bend and he spent the next year trying to cope with the pain with pills. He eventually opted to have it amputated.
“I’ve got no regrets,” Roman says. “And I’m thankful to all the people who helped get to where I am now, getting to do a sport I love and chasing after a dream.”