Athletes will strive their entire careers to wear an Olympic or Paralympic gold medal around their necks, but only a tiny fraction of them ever do.
Andy Yohe is one of those fortunate few, but these days, the captain of the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team rarely thinks about the piece of gold he’s got.
Heck, he keeps that one — a memento of Team USA’s triumphant trip to the Vancouver Paralympic Winter Games in 2010 — in a drawer back home in Bettendorf, Iowa.
“It’s just not doing much for me,” Yohe said. “I need to get that second one.”
Indeed, Yohe’s sights are firmly set on bringing home another gold, a suitable souvenir of Sochi, when he leads the U.S. in its title defense next March.
Sled hockey, like any other sport, is a “what have you done for me lately” commodity, and Yohe, who will wear the captain’s “C” for the second straight Winter Games, said that no one on Team USA will be resting on any laurels.
“The most important part,” he said, “is erasing the fact that we ever won a gold medal. That’s in the past. It’s a really hard thing to do. There’s just such a hunger to win a gold medal, that when you win one, that’s a huge goal in your life that’s marked off. Sometimes it’s hard to find the drive to continue. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how hard you worked before, and what it took to win the first one. As far as we’re concerned, that never even took place.”
At 35, Yohe, a defenseman, who lost both legs in a train mishap as a teenager, is the graybeard of the 18-man Paralympic squad that sports 15-year-old fuzzy cheeked forwards Brody Roybal and Declan Farmer.
Both youngsters were preteens when Yohe earned his first Paralympic medal, a bronze, at the 2006 Winter Games in Torino, Italy.
Yet for a while — three years in fact — it appeared that Vancouver would be Yohe’s last hurrah.
Yohe had already decided as much.
With he and his wife Katie about to welcome their first child, daughter Abby, into the world, Yohe felt the time had come to put the sled away.
“I’m of the age where I have to focus on a career,” said Yohe, who by day is office manager for Miller-Meier Limb and Brace, a prosthetic and orthotic company. “For us sled hockey guys, hockey is not what’s going to make our money. We need to have a way to make a living. I have a college degree [in business from Ashford University], but I needed to get some work experience.”
Even so, Yohe’s competitive hunger pangs only sharpened with his time away from the ice.
“[It was] real hard,” he said. “I had been part of the team since 2005. Several of those guys I had watched grow up, and I knew them as well as I knew any of my brothers. It was definitely hard when I knew they had a camp. I knew what they were doing, and I couldn’t be a part of it.
“The hardest part was when I had to watch games. I knew I could still help those guys out. But I couldn’t make it happen. It was frustrating.”
His frustration turned to resolve when, last year, the Yohes felt that with matters having grown more manageable, one more Paralympic run would be doable.
Yohe ended his premature retirement and returned to anchor both U.S. blue line and dressing room.
“It really has been a smooth transition back,” he said. “It was like when you haven’t seen a family member in a years. You know them so well, and when you come back, in a few minutes, it’s like you didn’t even miss a day. I’ve had a blast.”
And if he ends up with a second golden bauble for that drawer, life will be even better.
“All we’re worried about is winning another one,” Yohe said. “Life is all about experiences that you have. If you can go to a Paralympic Games, you have to do whatever you can to make that happen.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.