Josh Pauls was born without tibia bones in both legs, and had each leg amputated when he was 10 months old.
“I didn't have much to say about it, since I was only 10 months old,” said Pauls, a member of the United States Paralympic team who just returned from Sochi with his second gold medal.
“But it turned out to be the best decision my parents could have made. I might not have my legs, but I am able to go out and promote my sport, travel all over the world and let people – especially young kids – know that you can go out and accomplish all their goals and all their dreams if they don't let people tell them it can't be done.”
Pauls and other members of the Disabled Athlete Sports Association's (DASA) St. Louis Blues Sled Hockey team interacted with disabled skaters of all ages Sunday morning at the Independence Events Center where the IEC partnered with the Recreation Council of Greater Kansas City and both the Independence and Kansas City Parks and Recreation Departments to host the first annual sled hockey and skating ability camp.
“This is one of the greatest days of my life,” said 16-year-old Hunter Oakes, who has Caudal Regression Syndrome (a condition that exists in a variety of forms, ranging from partial absence of the tail bone regions of the spine to absence of the lower vertebrae, pelvis and parts of the thoracic and/or lumbar areas of the spine.)
The young man from Freeman, Mo., basically suffers from the same condition that led to Pauls' legs being amputated.
“Hunter was never told he could not do something, and look at him today,” said his mother Laurie, with a touch of pride in her voice. “He wears braces and does not have the freedom that most 16 years old, but he won't let anything stop him.”
Sled hockey allows people with disabilities to compete in ice sports and recreational activities like hockey and ice skating. Participants sit on their skates using an adaptive device known as a sled, which is affixed with two skate blades and a runner in the front to form a tripod instead of standing up to skate.
Participants also use two shortened hockey sticks with a blade on one end and a pick on the other end to propel themselves across the ice.
Oakes was one of the first participants on the ice and the last to leave.
“People may say I'm handicapped, but I'm not,” Hunter said. “Today was a wonderful opportunity to get to experience skating – and to hold a gold medal.”
Pauls took photos with each of the participants after the event, letting them wear his gold medal.
“This is just great fun,” said 20-year-old Kansas City resident Meira Dozier. “Sliding across the ice is a sensation I never thought I would experience. I hope we can all do this again someday.”
The Recreation Council of Greater Kansas City is a non-profit organization built to enhance the quality of life for people with disabilities through increased participation in recreation and leisure opportunities. To find out more about sled hockey, log onto http://www.rcgkc.org .