The USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, Inc., is a program that utilizes the sport of ice hockey as a rehabilitation tool for combat-wounded and service-disabled veterans. Founded in 2008 with only a handful of hockey players, the USA Warriors today boasts a roster of approximately 60 players on both standing and sled hockey teams.
For service members and veterans, one of the most challenging aspects of returning to civilian life can be the injuries they bring home with them. Some wounds are visible, such as tissue scarring or an amputation, but others are hidden from view. Traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, internal organ damage, and chronic illness can drastically affect a person’s life without any outward symptoms. As a USA Warrior, players are welcomed into an environment of shared understanding, camaraderie, and “having each other’s backs.” Many of the USA Warriors have been playing hockey all of their lives, while others are trying out the sport for the first time. Whatever the players’ level of skill or ability, they come together as a team for practices and games—a routine that creates the sort of cohesiveness and bonding that is familiar from their military experiences. The physical nature of hockey assists with maintaining fitness and helps players become more comfortable with their post-injury physical conditions.
In addition to weekly practices, the Warriors maintain an active schedule of game, tournament, and special event participation. The USA Warriors have traveled to Chicago to skate with the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field, participate in the Northeast Sled Hockey League, and have played numerous games against teams from local businesses and government organizations. The annual charity game versus the Lawmakers, a team of Congressmen and their staffs, traditionally draws a large audience, which has included numerous military and governmental dignitaries and a strong media presence.
The USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program is the 2013 recipient of the USA Hockey Southeast District Director’s Award and the 2012 recipient of the Director’s Creative Humanitarian Achievement Award from the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s Program in Physical Therapy Education.
The USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program, Inc., is a 501(3)c charitable non-profit that operates in partnership with the Disabled American Veterans. The coaches, staff, and Board of Directors of the USA Warriors are all volunteers. Less than 2% of all funds raised for the Warriors program goes to administrative costs; the remaining 98-plus % of funds goes to support the wounded and disabled veterans who this program supports.