“It’s too easy to give up” is what Army Sergeant Bryan Dilberian said minutes before taking the ice at Madison Square Garden with his Wheelchair Sports Federation New York Sled Rangers teammates.
Just over four years ago on July 1, 2011, Dilberian, a native of Brooklyn, was on a tour of Afghanistan when he and his fellow soldiers hopped a wall after an encounter with the enemy. He’s quick to mention that they completed the mission, but he lost both his legs and his left arm when he landed on a 30-pound Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. Dilberian also lost his best friend.
“I’m sorry for my friend’s life, but as far as me losing my limbs, I still have one more,” he said with a determined yet joking demeanor.
It’s that demeanor that led Dilberian, 29, to learn to walk with the use of prosthetic legs less than two months after his injury, and that led him to become the first triple amputee to return to active duty despite nearly 30 surgeries to fix his legs, arms, face, chest and back.
“I went through all the pain,” he said. “But pain is weakness leaving the body. Thank God. He gave me the strength to let me do what I do.”
Dilberian was honorably discharged from the military and now works as a candidate investigator for the Fire Department of New York, and also does public speakings.
“It’s not over until the fat lady sings for me,” he said with a laugh, showing again his sense of humor that has helped him find the positive despite so many negatives being thrown his way.
Dilberian is now in his second season with the Sled Rangers, which is affiliated with the Wheelchair Sports Federation and plays in the Northeast Sled Hockey League, and is comprised of over 40 physically disabled athletes, several of whom are disabled vets like Dilberian.
“I love it,” he said. “We travel all over the Northeast coast, playing a bunch of guys, a lot of veterans on the other teams. It’s loads of fun.”
Private First Class Len Lacina was an army M1 Armor Crewman who was left partially paralyzed with memory loss due to an adverse reaction to a medical treatment.
“I’m slowly getting back,” he said Tuesday at The Garden. “Going to be able to walk with leg braces all the way up to the hips and get back on my feet.”
Like Dilberian, Lacina is in his second season playing sled hockey. He started as a defenseman but after an injury to the team’s goalie, he moved between the pipes.
“I’m not bad, and I’m not good,” he said with a laugh.
For Dilberian, a lifelong hockey fan, Tuesday night was extra special to be able to play at The Garden, a place he’d seen so many events at.
“The only time I was ever at MSG was in the seats,” he said with another laugh. “Now, actually being on the ice that NHL players play on, it’s pretty cool.”
Despite what he lost, Dilberian said quitting is not an option.
“It’s too easy to sit on your [butt],” he said. “ I was never that guy to just sit around and do nothing. I was always fighting the fight. At the time, I was 25 years old. I was [in my] prime and I’m still in my prime now. I’m 29 years old. It’s just — keep fighting. The day you quit is the day you let the enemy win.”