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Q&A with Sled Hockey Paralympian Turned Paratriathlete Josh Sweeney

By Tom Robinson, 12/04/20, 12:00PM EST


Sweeney’s new sport came out of cross training for hockey

Josh Sweeney is a three-time world champion and a Paralympic gold medalist in sled hockey.              

Sweeney still enjoys the sport, but if there is another Paralympic appearance in his future, it likely will be in Paratriathlon.               

The 33-year-old Arizona native, who now resides in Oregon, began competing in the sport in 2019 and, in February, was named Men’s Paratriathlon Development Athlete of the Year after his first season of competition.               

Sweeney, a Marine sergeant, lost both legs and suffered other injuries when a bomb exploded beneath him in 2009 while deployed in Afghanistan.               

After being introduced to sled hockey, Sweeney won a gold medal with Team USA at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games in 2014.              

Similarly, Sweeney has found success early in his endeavors into Paratriathlon.          

Sweeney won a gold medal in his category in his first elite race, then won the Toyota USA Paratriathlon National Championship, placed fifth in the Tokyo ITU Paratriathlon World Cup and finished 12th in his first World Championships. He discussed the past, present and future athletics career in a recent interview with Let’s start by looking back a little bit. What do you remember most about your sled hockey career?

Josh Sweeney: Mainly just the fun that we had when traveling, playing as a team. Winning was obviously a lot more fun and we seemed to do a lot more of that than losing, but even then, just being with the guys and that team, we always just enjoyed hanging out.

USAH: Is there any one thing in particular that you miss most about that time?

JS: I miss the bantering the most. I feel like our team was always having fun at each other’s expense, but in a nice way. It was like a bunch of brothers joking around with each other and picking on one another, but at the end of the day you were still a family.

2014 Paralympics Home

USAH: How did triathlon become something that interested you?

JS: Triathlon started mainly because of cross-training. My wife and I had a couple kids. I was trying to find ways to stay active and stay in shape while taking care of newborn kids. That led me to handcycling and using a racing wheelchair and I had always loved going swimming, so I always loved finding time to take out for that.

Then, next you knew, I was thinking, “Hey, I could do a triathlon.”

USAH: Are there any ways that your hockey experience has helped you in triathlon?

JS: I do think that it allowed me to mentally slow down during the stressful times during a triathlon, like the transitions coming out of the water when you’re racing to get on your bike. Those are definitely stressful times and I just feel like the mentality you have on the ice of trying to stay smooth and consistent has carried over to triathlon.

USAH: What is training like for a triathlon? Is it similar to the way you trained for sled hockey? Do you just do the specific disciplines of the triathlon or are there other things still involved in your training?

JS: I pretty much stick to the triathlon disciplines — cycling the most, especially now because I can do that indoors. Swimming, I haven’t done in a while, but it’s something I’d like to get back into. Then, the racing, I have an indoor roller or I can go to a track. That’s something I can do.

Training is very similar as far as putting the hours in, putting the time in and focusing on the little things. The biggest difference is I just don’t have to freeze in an ice rink.

Josh Sweeney scoring the game-winning goal

Sweeney scored the game-winning goal in Team USA's 1-0 victory over Russia to capture the 2014 Paralympic gold.

USAH: You mentioned some of the things about being part of a team. What differences have you noticed in transitioning from preparing for a team sport and an individual sport?

JS: It is different. I’ll still talk to a lot of my competition and I’ll want to talk about things I’m doing and things they’re doing. When you’re on a hockey team, you talk about your strengths, you talk about your weaknesses, how you can get better and what you need to work on.

They’re usually not as apt to talk about those things. It’s definitely been a learning curve about what am I talking about, what am I not supposed to talk about, what’s okay to ask?

I’m sure sometimes I end up asking too many questions and people start to get irritated with me.

USAH: Is there any chance now or in the future of continuing to play sled hockey at the club or at the local level?

JS: I love playing the sport. I was working on growing the sport here in Portland before all this COVID happened.

It’s something I still love doing. I wanted to try to get some more time at home and do less traveling with my family’s schedule. That was the main reason for the transition.

Local club stuff, even national tournaments, if I can get in them, I’d love to stay involved in the sport

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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