Erica McKee, captain of the U.S. Women’s Development Sled Hockey Team, had rotator cuff surgery on her right shoulder on June 22. Four hours later, she received a direct message on Instagram from a friend.
“You’re nominated for an ESPY,” the friend had written.
McKee’s immediate reaction was one of disbelief, as she and her husband both said “no way” to the news that McKee was one of four nominees for Best Athlete with a Disability award. Sure enough, the news was true.
McKee traveled to Los Angeles for the ESPY Awards on July 12 at the Dolby Theater. The annual ESPN awards show honors the top athletes, teams and athletic accomplishments from the past year.
“Honestly, it was definitely a shock that I was actually nominated because usually it’s well-known Paralympians,” McKee said. “I mean, whoever nominated me, I would love to say, ‘Thank You.’ And I would love to know who nominated me.”
McKee was right to be surprised, as she became the first women’s sled hockey player to be nominated for an ESPY.
McKee’s fellow nominees in the category were Zach Miller (snowboarding), Aaron Pike (wheelchair racing and Nordic skiing) and Susannah Scaroni(wheelchair racing). Miller won the ESPY.
One of McKee’s first thoughts after she confirmed her nomination was putting together an outfit to hide her recent surgery.
“[I wanted] the sparkliest dress that I could find to hide the fact that I have this ugly black brace on my arm.”
Her husband, three-time Paralympic sled hockey gold medalist Kevin McKee, was her plus-one to the ceremony, while her mom, sister, brother and sister’s boyfriend also traveled out to Los Angeles for the festivities. One person McKee would’ve loved to have by her side was her father and “biggest supporter,” Tom, who died nine years ago.
“That was something that was our dream – to put women’s hockey out there for everyone,” McKee said. “He went to every single hockey practice for what was it, 19 years, 20 years. Every Wednesday, every Sunday.”
In the car on the way to the awards, McKee and her husband talked about what a surreal experience it was.
“This is probably the coolest moment ever,” McKee recalled thinking. “We’re about to go walk a red carpet. Who in their lifetime can say they’ve walked a red carpet?”
On a beautiful day with the sun shining, McKee’s dress sparkled just as she hoped it would. At the last minute, she decided to remove her brace just to walk the red carpet and take photos.
In meeting other athletes, McKee was most starstruck meeting Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson.
“Her and her husband are just genuine people,” McKee said. “It was just really cool to just go up to her and say, ‘Hi, I’m really fan-girling right now. Can I get a picture with you?’”
McKee will always have the memory of being nominated for an ESPY and talking with other people about her story. Athletes at the awards were interested in McKee’s story, enlightened by her sport.
McKee helped start the U.S. Women’s Development Sled Hockey Team in 2007, hoping to create opportunities for other women and girls. As thecaptain of the team, she has played “every position but goalie.”
Following the excitement of the ESPY Awards, McKee has her sights on recovering from surgery. Her goal after she can bear weight on the shoulder is to drive her car again. She’s working in physical therapy with a timeline of three to four months to possibly get back into a sled, with six months being the maximum recovery time, according to McKee.
While her shoulder heals, McKee will not be attending this week’s USA Hockey Sled Hockey Development Camp or play in the Para Ice Hockey Women’s World Challenge Aug. 31-Sept. 4 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.However, she will be in Green Bay cheering on her teammates as the U.S.competes against teams from Great Britain and Canada, as well as Team Asia and Team Europe. The goal, McKee said, is to have eight countries involved by 2025, continuing to support the growth of women’s sled hockey.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.