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Lightning sled hockey player Declan Farmer named to United States National Team

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

View a 2012 NBC Sports Feature on Declan Farmer.

Declan Farmer did not need a ticket to the 2012 Olympics in London to compete for a gold medal.

In fact, that chance will come later.

But as it turns out, he doesn’t need the ability to skate either.

Farmer, a 14-year-old teenager entering the ninth grade at Berkeley Preparatory School, is a congenital double amputee who just last month was named to the 2012-13 United States National Sled Hockey Team.

The sport is simply an innovative variation of the traditional game that utilizes a sled comprised of aluminum tubing rather than skates, and two shortened sticks with a pick on each end to propel the sled across the ice.

Its humble beginnings are rooted in the efforts of the Lightning Foundation, whose director was told about the sport by a college student with cerebral palsy named Travis Leigh. Much to Leigh’s surprise, the Foundation went all in for the cause by donating ice time, gear, a coach, and yes, even a large portion of the travel expenses so that the game could grow across varying demographics.

It did, too.

Just four months ago, in April, Farmer and the Lightning combined squad, coached by Lightning Community Hero Mike Celona, brought home a national championship following a sweep of the 2012 USA Disabled Hockey Open ‘A’ Tournament in Dallas, Texas.

Now, however, Farmer is hoping to add a Paralympic gold medal to that collection, even if he has to wait a while seeing that the games, to be held in Sochi, Russia, won’t commence until 2014.

“Everyone has been very supportive and happy for me, so I’m really excited,” Farmer said.

And don’t forget proud.

Farmer was born with deformations in both his hips and legs. He learned to walk as a one-year old on prosthetics. By the time he arrived at age eight, he already knew how to skate using his prosthetic legs. An avid fan of sports, Farmer said he tested the waters in soccer, sailing, and even snowboarding, but none of them really ever stuck.

“He’s creative and he’s able to anticipate openings for plays to develop,” said Declan’s father, Matt. “Hockey is his game because it is a perfect combination of speed, strength, and smarts.”

There might even be a bit of athleticism handed down in the genes, too.

Farmer’s uncle played professional baseball. He also has an aunt who emerged as an All-American distance runner at the University of Florida.

“But first and foremost,” Matt added, “his competitiveness comes within himself.”

The younger Farmer’s club leagues with the Lightning team allow him to compete against others much older than him, of varying ages and skills, so he should have no problem when it comes time to compete on the international stage against some of the world’s greatest athletes.

And that whole not being able to use your legs thing?

No big deal – it’s the power-to-weight ratio of one’s upper body that surfaces as the crucial element in sled hockey.

“The game is a little slower than traditional hockey,” Declan said. “But you’ll find that you actually get better movement.”

What once started out as merely firing pucks against a table in his driveway has evolved into doing more of the same, except now at a net.

In fact, there will be a lot of that going on prior to the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Farmer said he will attend the first training camp for the event next month, in September, and then play in one tournament per month throughout the remainder of the year. There are also three international tournaments – including one each in the United States, Canada, and South Korea – that will factor in to determining the seeding for the 2014 Games. He’ll be joined by Greg Shaw, a Lightning sled teammate, who previously competed in the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver.

Adding to the mix is that Farmer has participated in international competition before, playing for a team called the Patriots last season under the USA Hockey outfit.

But there’s no added pressure, he says, brought about by the wide reach that the quadrennial competition has.

“I’ve been there before, so it’s nothing new, but there are a lot of good teams, so it will be a challenge,” Farmer said.

And as he is proven all along, there’s not one of those he has yet to overcome.

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