Brody Roybal doesn’t have a stock elevator pitch ready to woo disabled individuals to try sled hockey.
“I don’t have to sell it,” the two-time Paralympian said. “I just have them watch it. They fall in love with it, just like I did. “
The 19-year-old Northlake resident has become a force on the international stage, having captured gold medals in back-to-back Paralympics, and being named Best Forward and Tournament MVP for the 2018 Paralympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
In 17 games this season, Roybal scored a dazzling 26 goals and 22 assists for Team USA.
Roybal was part of a trio of individuals with ties to the Chicago area who helped the United States capture the sled hockey gold medal in PyeongChang, secured with an overtime victory in the final game against Canada.
Kevin McKee, a resident of Chicago until just recently, and Josh Misiewicz of La Grange also played key roles in bringing home the gold for Team USA.
Roybal, who has been playing sled hockey for 12 years, said it was not surprising the USA team faced Canada in the gold medal match.
“It’s just like with regular hockey. We have just as big a rivalry with Canada,” said the March of Dimes’ “Inspirational Athlete” for 2014. “We are just ahead of other countries right now. Our two countries have put a lot of money and effort into their national teams. I expect sled hockey to grow in other countries.”
Like many 7-year-olds, Roybal was interested in sports. Born a congenital bilateral amputee, he was seeking an activity.
“I was looking for a disabled sport to play,” said the Northlake resident, who does not have a femur in either leg. “I played a lot of sports and didn’t like them. Sled hockey definitely doesn’t play like a disabled sport. It is extremely fast-paced. Most people think a disabled sport can’t be fast-paced.”
McKee said the pace of the game is also what hooked him on the sport.
“Speed is something you don’t find in a lot of disabled sports,” he said. “I got moving out there and it drew me in.”
McKee, who recently moved back to Iowa after living eight years in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood, said his sister was a figure skater so his family spent a lot of time at the local ice rink when he was growing up.
“I wanted to try out a disabled sport and I fell in love with sled hockey right away,” said McKee, who has played the sport for 17 years.
At 28 years old, McKee would like to be in one more Paralympics, not to collect more hardware, but to keep the camaraderie going.
“Some of my best friends are on this team. I want to stay on this team,” the two-time Paralympian said. “There is more that we do together off the ice. There is joking and doing all kinds of stuff together. I will still be young enough in 2022 for one more Paralympics.”
McKee, who was born with sacral agenesis, an infrequent congenital condition of spinal deformity, said he is glad with the attention being given to sports for people with disabilities.
“People would put us together with the Special Olympics,” McKee recalled. “Now there is definitely an understanding about sports for the disabled. I had my Team USA jacket on the other day and a guy came up to me and asked me if was in the Paralympics.
“With NBC’s coverage of the Paralympics, people are starting to understand what this is all about, and I’m glad to be a part of it. Each Olympics there are more and more hours of Paralympics
coverage. Maybe eventually the Paralympics will be as big as the Olympics.”
Josh Misiewicz of La Grange was a first-time Paralympian in PyeongChang.
A double above-the-knee amputee injured by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan, he served with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division.
A friend who plays for the USA Warriors Sled Hockey Team introduced Misiewicz to the sport in 2011. Misiewicz played for three seasons with the USA Warriors, helping the Warriors to the Adult Open A championships at the 2014 USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival.
He played NCAA Division III hockey for St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn. Misiewicz graduated from the College of DuPage with an associate degree in liberal arts.
—- Suburban Chicago Paralympians find a home on ice —–