San Francisco native Lee to compete in Paralympic sled hockey 

click to enlarge Jen Lee
  • Meredith Niernan/WGBH
  • San Francisco native Jen Lee is a goalie on the U.S. sled hockey team and will compete in the Paralympic Games in Russia in March.

Nearly five years later, it's still tough for Jen Lee to fathom his remarkable story.

A San Francisco native and sergeant, in the United States Army, Lee suffered a horrific motorcycle accident in 2009 that left him without his left leg. Next month, he'll be representing his country in the Paralympic games in Sochi, Russia.

"When you go through an injury like that, you're mainly thinking about one thing -- will I ever be capable of doing the same things able-bodied people can do?" said Lee, who enlisted in the Army in 2004. "The thought of playing any kind of sport never even crossed my mind. When I think about where I am right now, it's pretty unbelievable."

Less than a half-decade after his accident, Lee is the goalie for the United States' sled hockey team, a squad of 17 disabled athletes who will compete for a gold medal in Sochi.

Lee, who played roller hockey as a kid growing up in San Francisco and the Peninsula, was introduced to the concept of sled hockey through an adviser with Operation Comfort, an organization dedicated to assisting military service personnel with significant injuries. Sled hockey is a fast-paced, heavy-hitting sport where athletes move on sleds equipped with skates. The rules mirror much of those for ice hockey.

"It's one of the most intense, physical sports I've ever been involved with," said Lee, who played basketball at Westmoor High School in Daly City. "People get this impression that anyone could pick it up. That couldn't be further from the truth. This sport has some great athletes, and if you're not completely focused, they'll make you pay."

In 2010, just nine months after being introduced to the sport, Lee qualified for the U.S. sled hockey team, much to his initial shock.

"I couldn't believe that I made the team at first," said Lee, who served a 15-month deployment to Iraq. "It was such a tremendous honor."

When he's not enduring the squad's rigorous training regimen, Lee plays for the San Antonio Rampage, a team that travels throughout the Midwest competing against other sled hockey squads. He's able to pursue his athletic goals with the backing of the Army's World Class Athlete Program, a support system that helps military personnel achieve their Olympic dreams.

Currently, Lee is in Charlotte, N.C., where the sled hockey squad is making its final preparations before departing for the Paralympic Games, which start March 7 in Sochi. Lee said that the Canadian and Russian teams will prove the stiffest challenge for the U.S. squad, which took home gold in Vancouver in 2010.

Along with becoming an international athlete, Lee is also set to be a television star. On Monday, PBS will broadcast an hourlong documentary called "Ice Warriors," which focuses on the training and preparation of the U.S. sled hockey team. It will air locally on KQED (Ch. 9) at 10 p.m.

"It's nice that they're focusing on the team, but I think it's really about raising awareness of all adaptive sports," said Lee, who still has many friends and relatives in the Bay Area. "Hopefully people watch this and then tune in to the games next month. There are some really great stories out there, and it would be amazing if we could inspire others to pick up these sports."

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Will Reisman

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