LITTLE FALLS, N.J. — Josh Pauls is a veteran on the USA men’s sled hockey team at the age of 22. Five years ago, he was the youngest player ever to make the team.
His rookie year led to a stunning five game shutout in the Vancouver Paralympics, and his first gold medal.
“I was like I finally accomplished something really great,” Pauls recalled. “I remember just walking into the family reception they had after we won, and just giving my medal to my parents and saying, ‘Hey, thanks for taking me to hockey practices all my life!'”
Pauls was born without tibia bones, and had his legs amputated when he was 10 months old. The challenge of keeping up with other kids melted away when he found sled hockey at age 10.
“It was one of the first times where I’m just like everybody else,” Pauls said. “Nobody is limited once you get on the ice.”
With two gold medals and three world championships, Pauls is considered one of the best sled hockey players in the world. And he’s giving back in a very unique way.
During the summer, the world-renowned player turns camp counselor at Floyd Hall Arena in Little Falls, New Jersey, coaching kids without disabilities.
“Hockey is hockey,” Pauls said. “They’re standing up. I’m sitting down, that’s pretty much the only difference. The concepts are the same.”
Pauls is very open with the kids about his disability, but wants them to focus on hockey first. On the last day of camp, he shares his personal story, and answers their questions in depth.
“I was born without my shin bones,” Pauls explained to the kids. “I have a computer chip in my legs that control them when I walk.”
He also passes around his gold medals from Vancouver and Sochi, which inspired 11-year-old Patrick Zincone.
“He never gave up when he knew he couldn’t play NHL hockey,” said Patrick. “So he put his mind to sled hockey — that just inspired all of us.”
“How he has no legs, and still got where he did,” said goalie Greg Polimeni, when asked what makes Pauls so special. “He got really far and he got two gold medals. That’s kinda cool. That’s really cool.”
“He is a great coach,” said Matthew Esquerre. “He inspires me so much. He made me work harder and I got better.”