In 2006 Christy Gardner was serving as a MP in Korea when she sustained a skull fracture that affected her ability to walk and speak.
As she began the recovery process, doctors shared with Gardner a list of activities in which she would no longer be able to participate.
“I was crushed,” said Gardner, a former Long Island University student-athlete.
However, with the encouragement of other injured soldiers, Gardner realized the doctors were mistaken.
It was through the annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic featuring athletic activities for injured veterans that Gardner discovered sled hockey.
After an initial 20 minutes of ice time, she was hooked.
“I loved it,” said Gardner. “It’s still hockey, so it was a good chance to get back and be active.”
In May Gardner was named USA Hockey’s 2013 Disabled Athlete of the Year, four years after she began playing sled hockey.
The award recognizes the outstanding perseverance and dedication by a disabled hockey player through his or her ability to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of excellence both on and off the ice.
Gardner, the second female to receive the honor since it was created in 2005, accepted the award on June 5 at USA Hockey’s annual awards night in Colorado Springs.
“I think the award is about stuff you do to enhance the game and your team,” she said. “Hopefully it shows while you may be hurt, there’s still so much you can achieve. Life can be absolutely amazing if you work for it.”
Gardner resides in Portsmouth, Maine, but frequently trains and plays with the USA Warriors sled hockey team in Maryland.
The USA Warriors ice hockey program offers military veterans who have been injured in military action the chance to play hockey in an environment suited to their personal needs.
In addition to training and supplying injured service members with hockey equipment, USA Warriors also serves as a rehabilitation tool to overcome physical and emotional injuries.
Thom Hirsch, USA Warriors president, said not only is Gardner a great sled hockey player, but also a role model off-ice as well.
“Above all, being a disabled Army veteran, she is admired by her teammates, who themselves are wounded warriors, for her positive outlook on life despite the adversities thrown her way,” said Hirsch. “She is a model of positive spirit for us all. We are so proud of Christy and her earning of this award.”
In November 2012 Gardner and her teammates competed as the Capitals sponsored USA Warriors team in the third annual USA Hockey Sled Classic presented by the National Hockey League in Buffalo.
The Capitals won all five of their contests over the weekend, outscoring their opponents 36-3 while winning the B division championship. For Gardner, who recorded a goal, the tournament was her first with the Warriors.
“It was outstanding,” she said. “To have so much I’m still capable of – it’s pretty awesome. It may not be the same as before, but I found so many things I can do.”