Rico Roman: Veteran, Paralympian, and Father
The 18 straight nights of TV coverage of the Sochi Olympics start today! But as we gear up, be sure to also mark March 7, 2014 on your calendars for the first ever broadcast of the Winter Paralympic Games. In recognition of this momentous occasion, Parents chatted with U.S. military veteran and member of our Paralympic Sled Hockey team Rico Roman. From his tours in Iraq and his injury to life as an athlete and father of Juliet, 12, and Raul, 10, Rico shared his experiences and his excitement for what’s to come.
P: How do you feel about going to Sochi and representing Team USA?
RR: It’s just a great feeling to be a part of a team again, to wear the red, white, and blue and represent USA.
P: How are the emotions similar and different to what you felt when you represented your country in the service?
RR: I feel just that same pride in putting on that uniform and being able to represent my country. It’s just a little different. I know that going over there to play hockey is just a game and it’s just to have fun and represent my country, but going over there to war is a tad bit different. You can always not come back, so that’s always in the back of your mind. In some ways, it’s very similar—being a part of a team. We’re from all over the United States, just like you are when you’re with your platoons and squads in the army, so that is very similar. The different accents. The different cultures and the different foods we like, so I love that part of it.
P: How old were your kids when you first left home to go overseas?
RR: I want to say Juliet was 2 and Raul was a couple months, because when I left I was carrying him around and when I came back he was crawling and standing. I was blown away.
P: Obviously, you felt a sense of duty and pride, but what was it like to leave them home when you had to go?
RR: It’s hard. It’s really hard to be away from your loved ones when you’re deployed. You constantly think about them. You constantly want to make sure that they’re good and that they’ve got everything they need. I would pray for them over there, even though I know they’re okay I would always say a little prayer for them. And you miss them. You miss them so much. My wife would send me pictures and I would always try to write letters.
P: When you became injured and you came home, how did your role as a father change with your new abilities?
RR: I don’t think it changed, you know. I just felt, Hey, I’ve got to get better and I need to get better and take care of my family. It goes in part with this Liberty Mutual RISE program that they have going on: With every setback there’s a chance for a comeback and to rise up from that. With me being injured, I didn’t really look at it as, This is gonna be the end and I’m never gonna be able to do the same things. I do them, I just have to do them a little differently now.
P: You were injured when your kids were quite young. Did they notice anything different in terms of the way you related to them and played with them?
RR: They did. They understood. I was in limb salvage for about a year. The doctors saved my leg, but it couldn’t bend and it was very painful. My kids have seen that and they’ve seen that I was really either very medicated, unfortunately, because of the pain, or I was very cranky because of being in pain. I’m the one that opted for the amputation and sure enough my daughter was really worried. She said, “Is it gonna grow back?” She was really nervous about it. My son knew right away from being around other injured service members that “Oh you’re gonna get a robot leg!” But they handled it very well. They seem to be very proud of me. I’m blessed with two great children.
P: Are your unique abilities everyday to them now, or do they recognize how extraordinary it is that you’re going off to the Paralympics?
RR: I think that they think it’s just me being me. One of their teacher asked my daughter—I guess she found out that I’m an amputee—and she asked, “So what can your father do?” And my daughter says she looked at her and said, “Everything.” I was so blown away that she said that. I don’t think it’s even part of the equation. We go about our days like no big deal. They love teasing me. Sometimes if I don’t have my crutches I’ll kind of hop around on one leg and they’ll have their pajamas on and they’ll fold their leg up in one of the pajama legs and hop around the house [laughter]. It’s a lot of fun.
P: After your accident and later your recovery, did you ever dream that you would end up taking the path of an athlete?
RR: No, I never did. I was always very into sports and I was so fortunate that I did my rehab in San Antonio, at The Center for the Intrepid. We had Paralympians come and speak with us. It gave me that drive that if I ever found a sport that I could play and get a chance to play in the Paralympics that I would really go for it. It just so happens that worked out.
P: What was Operation Comfort’s role in helping you find sled hockey?
RR: Operation Comfort invited me to do an MS-150, it’s a bike ride for multiple sclerosis and Operation Comfort helps veterans with disabilities due to combat. We did this bike ride and from there they had asked me to come and try the sport of sled hockey. They are the ones who sponsored this all-veteran team there in San Antonio. After playing for 8 months, our coach at the time, Lonny Hannah, was on the national team and said he thought I could make the Paralympic team. I didn’t even know there was a Paralympic team for this sport. I thought this was just the local, fun, rec thing to do. I tried out for the 2010 Vancouver games, but I didn’t make the team. I had to rise up and work really hard to make this national team. I made it the following year and have been on it now for four seasons, so I’m so excited to play in the Paralympics coming up.
P: Are your kids into sports? Do you hope that maybe one of them will take on hockey?
RR: Oh definitely. Texas is not that big into hockey, though. Football is #1 there. My son plays a little football. My daughter just finished basketball season so now she’s starting swimming. My son, I just got him started with skating lessons.
P: What do you hope your kids can learn from your experiences, everything from your service to your injury and recovery to now your representing Team USA?
RR: I’m hoping that they’ll learn that you never know what life’s going to throw at you and to just be happy with what you’ve got and always to work hard at the things you want. Focus on things that you want. Tell yourself that you can do it and go get it.
P: Is your family coming with you to Sochi?
RR: They are. I’m so excited about it. They’ve never seen me play in the international games. They’ve seen me play in the club league but this will be the first international tournament and it’s the biggest thing, of course, the Paralympics. I’m very excited about them coming. I would love to eat some local food and enjoy the scenery with them and hopefully they embrace all of that and take it all with them.
For those at home: The Paralympic Games will be aired on NBC for 50 hours of coverage. This is the first time this is to ever happen.
Celebrate the Olympics and Paralympics at your house with this themed cake!
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