Lakewood Ranch area sledge hockey player wins gold with Team USA at Women’s World Challenge | Eastern County
“The Star-Spangled Banner” was playing and a gold medal rested around Monica Quimby’s neck.
Even weeks later, Quimby struggles to describe the feeling. The East County resident had had some big wins before, but none felt like it.
It’s the Women’s World Para Ice Hockey Challenge, held Aug. 26-28 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Team USA defeated Canada 5-1 in the gold medal game. Quimby, who was left paralyzed after a skiing accident in 2006, has played para ice hockey, also known as sledge hockey, in international competitions since 2016, but none of them have more counted as this one. That’s because the Women’s World Challenge was the first women-only event to be sanctioned by World Para Ice Hockey, the sport’s governing body. Quimby and her American teammates hope that earning the status, which has taken a decade to achieve, is the first step in the process of getting women’s sledge hockey into the Paralympic Games.
“It was so important,” Quimby said. “That moment (of the national anthem), you are so present. It was a big deal for me and my teammates but also for all women in sport.”
As it stands, women are technically not barred from competing in the current version of Paralympic Games sledge hockey, which has been around since 1994 and is co-ed. But only three women have seen the ice at the Games in the sport’s history, despite a rule that teams can have an extra player on their rosters if there is a female player on it. This has caused American players like Kelsey DiClaudio to oppose the current iteration of the sport and support the acceleration of women’s sledge hockey.
“Internationally, para ice hockey is not a mixed event,” DiClaudio, who had three assists in the Women’s World Challenge gold medal game, wrote on Twitter in March. “Many countries do not consider their players as national teams. There is a need for change in this sport.”
You can see why this one was different for everyone involved. It was the first sign of real change in the sport. That feeling — that this one was real — permeated the entire experience, said Quimby, a defenseman, starting with the team’s training camp in July in Buffalo, New York. It was fun, sure, but because the stakes were higher and more eyes were on them, the athletes wanted to win more than ever. Quimby said there was a determination within the American dressing room that she hadn’t felt before. The United States won all four games at the event; heading into the gold medal game, Quimby said, the team had little doubt about the outcome.
“We were a dominant force,” Quimby said. “We’ve had such an increase in speed and communication and overall talent.”
The intensity turns off as soon as the clock reaches zero. Quimby said the team celebrated by going out for Chinese food and heading to a karaoke bar, where Quimby and his teammates knocked out locker room favorites like Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA,” “Bulletproof.” by La Roux and a plethora of hits from the “Pitch Perfect” movies.
The entire gold medal match can be watched on Paralympic Games YouTube channel. I would recommend watching at least the first period, which contains four of Team USA’s five goals. This will give you an idea of the kind of skill and stamina it takes to play this sport.
The road to the Paralympic Games will take at least eight years, with the sport having to meet certain criteria along the way, such as securing teams representing six or more countries. This year’s event featured three such teams – Team USA, Team Canada and Team Great Britain – plus a fourth team called “Team World” which was made up of individual players from various places. In an interesting twist, Team World finished with the bronze medal, beating Great Britain 5-0 in the match for third place. The hope is that Team World athletes will take the experience they gained from the Women’s World Challenge and spread it back to their home countries via development camps and old-fashioned word of mouth. Quimby said she would be doing something similar in the United States early next year; she will host a camp on a date to be determined in Tampa for players interested in learning the sport.
“The most important thing is to get into hospitals and rehabilitation centers,” Quimby said. “If you can do a few clinics right after you’ve been injured, you can be exposed to not just our sport, but a lot of sports. We’re trying to help other countries with that and with funding and equipment, as much as we can.. We try to help countries create the same backbone as the United States and Canada.
Quimby and other veteran members of Team USA may not be on the ice when the sport reaches the Paralympics. For them, that matters less than the progress of the sport as a whole. Eight years later, the party after the Paralympic Games will eclipse the karaoke outing of the American team.
But for now — for the hope of a bright future it represents — the night, and the event, remain unforgettable.
“To be able to represent for us was amazing,” Quimby said.
Join the neighborhood! Our 100% local content helps strengthen our communities by delivering relevant news and information to our readers. Support independent local journalism by joining The Observer’s new membership program – The Newsies – a group of like-minded community citizens like you. .