Nine years ago, the International Paralympic Committee named teenager Declan Farmer its Best Male Athlete of the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. That same year, Farmer won the Best Male Athlete with a Disability ESPY Award.
Fast forward to 2023 and Farmer is now a seasoned veteran on the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team at 25 years old. And he’s still winning awards, as the IPC honored him with the 2023 Para Sport Award for Best Male Winter Athlete.
“It caught me off guard a bit and it was cool,” Farmer said about winning the coveted award. “It’s an honor to get that for sure.”
Farmer, a forward, is in his 12th year on the U.S. National Sled Team. He knows he’s a role model to the younger skaters on the squad.
Humble as always, Farmer is quick to deflect the international honor to those surrounding and supporting him.
“It is a team award, so I’m just kind of the guy lucky enough to have my name put to it, really,” Farmer said.
“This is a juggernaut of a team, of a program that we’ve all built together, including guys involved with USA Hockey that have really put everything into developing the grassroots and now it’s just a pipeline of young talent coming up and pushing everyone to get better.”
During his tenure on the U.S. National Sled Team, Farmer has racked up a ton of hardware. The accolades include being a three-time Paralympic gold medalist, four-time world champion and eight-time Para Hockey Cup champion.
Farmer’s longevity and success in sled hockey is quite impressive. The Tampa, Florida, native has made his mark in the sport after making his first national team as a 14-year-old in 2012.
“I just came into the sport at a good time for that,” Farmer said. “I was just able to jump in when I was young, when it was still possible to make the team at that age. Where now if I was trying out as a 14-year-old, I wouldn’t have a chance at making the team.”
Farmer feels like he’s matured exponentially as a person and sled hockey player since winning his first slew of individual awards in 2014.
“I just love sled hockey more each year I play,” Farmer said. “It’s just been really fun to be a part of that group and have these best friends in that way. Then also me as a player, me loving it more. I’m skating a lot away from the team too.”
Farmer received this honor shortly before the U.S. began its preparation to defend its International Para Hockey Cup title. In the first IPH Cup last year, Team USA won all five of its games, and outscored its opponents 41-4.
The U.S. opened the tournament with a 5-0 victory over Team IPH Monday in Ostrava, Czechia. Farmer scored twice in the win. The U.S. next faces Canada on Tuesday and Czechia on Thursday in preliminary round competition.
Opening faceoff is set for 9 a.m. ET against Canada and can be viewed live here.
As much as repeating as champions is on the minds of the U.S. players, having the opportunity to continue to grow the sport on the international stage is paramount.
Farmer said the U.S. did joint training sessions with Czechia at last year’s tournament, which was a good way for both teams to learn from each other. Czechia went on to win bronze at the world championship this past June, and the two teams had even more joint practices prior to this year’s IPH Cup.
Team USA’s roster for the IPH Cup looks similar to last year. The U.S. plans to bring 20 players on this trip, and the final roster is eventually pared down to 17.
In addition to the international competition and joint training camp, this tournament is in part the final stage of the team’s summer tryouts.
Anyone that makes the roster for the IPH Cup must be ready to live up the lofty expectations that come with playing for the U.S. The defending world champions have their sights set on success this season and beyond, and a strong performance in this tournament can set a tone.
“We want to keep setting the bar high,” Farmer said. “We definitely want to send a message that we’re still the team to beat, really just kind of show our stuff.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.