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Health and Fitness

From Valor to Victory

One Marine's Journey from the Battlefield to the Ice Rink

Duty, Honor, Country. For service members, those three words define what they ought to be, can be, and will be.

Josh Sweeney, motivated by the events of 9/11, already understood what service to his country would mean. As an 18-year-old high school graduate, he volunteered to serve his country in a time of war and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2005 as an infantryman.

The next four years showed Sweeney what true service could be, and it was a path he was proud to embark on. Then one day in October everything changed.

As a Marine scout sniper on patrol in Nowzad, Afghanistan, Josh stepped on an improvised explosive device. He lost both of his legs, and for two hours he laid on the battlefield fighting for his life before he was evacuated.

"Before I had fully gone into shock I remember thinking, 'So this is what it feels to be blown up,'" he said. "I did not ever think that would be the first thing I would think about."

Sweeney spent more than a year in rehab at a military treatment facility in San Antonio. While there, his mother reintroduced him to the sport he loved. A former able-bodied high school hockey player, Josh committed himself to learn the sport from a new perspective: on a sled.

"Every time I went out here and played these short games I would go back to the hotel and just lay there," he said. "My shoulders, forearms, and wrists are killing me, my elbows are screaming at me, but now I don't even think about it."

No longer wearing the familiar digital camouflage of the U.S. Marine Corps, Sweeney once again is able to represent his country on an international level. He donned the red, white, and blue as member of the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team in the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.

In the gold medal game against Russia, Sweeney scored the winning goal.

"I've done more since I've been injured than I did before. It's awesome to be able to come back and now I can leave on my own terms and not have to give up because of an external force," he said. "This is a true honor and it really feels like I'm giving back again."

On July 16th, Josh was awarded the Inaugural Pat Tillman Award for Service during the 2014 ESPYS. The Pat Tillman Award recognizes an individual with a strong connection to sports who served in a way that honors Pat Tillman's legacy.

"I was immediately blown away when I heard I received the award. Growing up in Phoenix I knew who Pat Tillman was, and what he represented and what kind of person he was leaving the NFL to join the military," he said.

Now, the Purple Heart recipient has an ESPY award alongside his Olympic gold medal, and while Josh Sweeney's path has deviated since his first days as a private in the Marines, the mission has always stayed the same: Duty, Honor, Country.
  • Navy Photo

    Every time Sled Hockey players slam into each other it's the equivalent to a car accident. Sled Hockey players can reach up to 40 mph while they're skating on their sleds. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro.

  • Navy Photo

    Sled Hockey requires a tremendous amount of upper body strength. Josh works out every day in order to maintain the required strength to propel him across the ice and handle a puck at high speed. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Johnson.

  • Navy Photo

    Sled Hockey players use a special type of hockey stick. The lay of the blade is closer to the ice and the bottom of the stick has a six-pronged metal spike that helps propel players across the ice. Here, a coach tightens the blades on a stick. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Andrew Johnson.

  • Navy Photo

    Bo Reichenbach, a retired Navy SEAL, speaks with retired Marine Sergeant Josh Sweeney during the U.S. Men's National Hockey Team open tryouts. Out of the 17 players that represented the U.S. Sled Hockey team at the 2014 Paralympic Games, four were former service members. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dominique Pineiro.