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Updated Jun 25, 2014 - 3:27 pm

Phoenix paralympic star Josh Sweeney earns 1st Tillman Award

PORTLAND, Ore. — When retired Marine Sgt. Josh Sweeney recounts his
inspirational journey following an explosion that took both his legs in
Afghanistan, he leaves out an important detail: His gold-medal winning goal.

Sweeney played on the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team that beat the Russians
1-0 earlier this year in Sochi. He shot the game’s lone goal in the second
period at Shayba Arena, giving the Unites States its second straight gold medal
in the event.

Chided about omitting the detail, Sweeney laughed.

“I still feel pretty lucky to be able to have done that,” he said. “I try
not to take too much credit for it.”

He also doesn’t mention that he’s been honored with a Purple Heart for his
service in the Marines.

Sweeney will receive the inaugural Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2014
ESPY Awards on July 16. The award is being presented in conjunction with the Pat
Tillman Foundation, which invests in military veterans and their spouses through
educational scholarships.

Pat Tillman died in action in Afghanistan in 2004 after leaving the NFL’s
Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army with his brother Kevin.

“While the ESPYs celebrate the best accomplishments from the year in sports,
we remain committed to social responsibility and the heart of the show has
always been the presentation of the signature awards which, in the name of
Arthur Ashe and Jim Valvano, annually honor leaders who make an impact far
beyond sports,” said Connor Schell, vice president of ESPN Films and Original
Entertainment. “We are proud to add Pat Tillman’s commitment to service and
selflessness as another pillar of the ESPYs. Josh Sweeney’s dedication and
achievements make him a deserving recipient.”

Stuart Scott, the ESPN broadcaster who has battled cancer, has been named
recipient of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, and Michael Sam, the first openly
gay player to be drafted by an NFL team, will be awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage
Award at the ESPYs.

Sweeney grew up in Phoenix and started playing hockey to get out of the heat.
He joined the Marines in 2005 following high school.

During his second deployment, Sweeney stepped on an improvised explosive device
while serving in Nowzad, Afghanistan, in 2009. He suffered severe injuries to
his arm in addition to his legs.

One of his first thoughts when he started his arduous recovery was that he’d
never play hockey again.

With both of his legs amputated as a result of his injuries, Sweeney faced
months on rehabilitation. He ended up at a facility in San Antonio, where he
happened to hear about a sled hockey team, the Rampage.

“It was the same feeling as when I was in high school or even junior high _
just being out there with some buddies and passing the puck around, shooting the
puck _ that feeling when you step out on the field or the ice, whatever your
sport,” he said. “Right then and there I knew it was something that I loved.”

Sweeney’s coach pointed him to the U.S. national team. That led to Sochi.

“It was awesome being able to represent my country again in a different way,”
he said.

Sweeney recently moved to Hillsboro, Oregon, with his wife, Amber. Although
he’s still with the national team, he’s hoping to put together a sled hockey
team in his new home, and has been working with the Western Hockey League’s
Portland Winterhawks.

“After being injured you think, `What can I do now?’ or `What are my
limitations?’ Being out there on the ice and seeing what I could do helped make
me feel better about myself,” Sweeney said. “The fact that it was so hard to
get to where I am today _ the training was just endless and some days it felt
like I got on the ice for no reason at all and I wasn’t getting any better _ it
really helped me emotionally to push through and look at the right things I was
doing. The positive things.”

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