Brody Roybal of Northlake grins when asked if anyone has requested his autograph yet.
That day may come. The West Leyden High School sophomore was chosen in July to join the U.S. Sled Hockey team, which competes in the Paralympic Games.
Like conventional hockey, sled hockey is played on ice. Players wear helmets and pads. The aim is to get the puck in the net.
Instead of wearing skates, however, each player sits in a sled that resembles a bucket with two blades underneath. A bit like skiers, they propel themselves using two shortened hockey sticks that have metal or plastic picks at one end. The other ends of the sticks are used to hit the puck.
The sport was developed to allow players who have a physical disability to continue to compete; Roybal was born without legs.
At 15 years old, Roybal is the youngest person chosen for the adult team. He’s not new to the sport, though, which he’s been playing since he was 8.
“I was looking at different disabled sports I could play,” Roybal said. “I tried wheelchair basketball, T-ball and sled hockey. That was the one that stuck.”
Roybal likes the rough and tumble aspects of sled hockey.
“Its physical out there,” Roybal said. “Checking, shooting.”
He’ll compete against teams from Canada, Korea, Russia, Sweden, Japan and elsewhere. He’ll also likely compete in the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi, Russia next March. “Likely,” that is, because the U.S. Sled Hockey team needs to cut one player from its roster to meet international requirements.
“I have to work hard every day so I won’t be cut from the team,” Roybal said.
Roybal estimates he works on his skills 13 hours a week. At 6 a.m. every day, he skates for one hour. Every school day, he works out in the gym for 30 minutes. He works out in his garage most days well.
“I do push-pull exercises and some days do weights,” Roybal said.
At least once a month, Roybal will travel for practice or a game. In January, the U.S. Sled Hockey team may relocate to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado for six weeks to train for the Paralympics.
He’ll ask his teachers if he can do homework early and reschedule tests. For longer trips such the Paralympics or training in Colorado, he might seek out a tutor.
According to the USA Hockey website, Sled Hockey was invented in the 1960s at a rehabilitation center in Stockholm, Sweden by a group of Swedes who wanted to continue to play hockey despite disabilities. In 1994, it was introduced as a medal sport in the Paralympics. In 2010, the U.S. Sled Hockey Team won the gold in the Paralympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
The oldest person on the U.S. team is 35; most members are in their 20s, Roybal said. His age doesn’t matter, he said.
“When I get out on the ice, you don’t look at how old the person is,” Roybal said. “It’s more skill on the ice.”