Greg Shaw, 23, was born with sacral agenesis, a congenital condition that causes spinal deformity. That hasn’t stopped him from competing at the highest level of athletics as part of the US Paralympic Men’s Sled Hockey team.
Growing up in Florida, Greg had never considered competing in snow sports, but in 2005 his family took a vacation to visit his sister in Park City, Utah. All of his siblings were going skiing and his parents convinced him to try as well. He went with his dad to the National Ability Center (NAC), a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, who got him out on a monoski. From that moment on, he was hooked into winter sports.
A short while later his best friend convinced him to try out sled hockey. “He told me you have the perfect body and attitude to play,” said Greg. “So I began playing with the NAC team.”
His friend was right about Greg’s potential. Just five months after he began playing the sport, he attended a development camp, where the US Paralympic sled hockey team was in attendance. While Greg enjoyed meeting the team and had thoughts of joining them one day, he did not stick around for the team tryouts that were happening at the end of the week. It didn’t matter. They had already spotted his talent.
“It turns out they had already named me to the team,” said Greg.
Having participated in a number of individual sports, Greg was drawn to the team sport of Sled Hockey, and particularly the camaraderie with his teammates. “I had never played a team sport up until then. It was almost like a family,” he said.
From the moment he was named to the team, he was dedicated to training for the Vancouver Paralympic games. The days were long, but he considers them some of the best times of his life. “It was the first time that I’d really worked for something greater,” he said.
The dedication paid off. In March of 2010, the US Men’s Paralympic Sled Hockey Team took home gold in Vancouver, defeating Japan in the gold medal game. Greg scored two goals and an assist in the five games in Vancouver. The experience was one he’ll never forget.
“Getting an opportunity to play for your country, you almost can’t describe it in words. It’s breathtaking,” he said.
After winning in Vancouver, the team took a few months off and then started training again. They currently meet every two or three weeks in a different city for training camp. The tour serves a dual purpose: to promote the sport of sled hockey to potential athletes and fans, and to help finalize the roster for Socchi.
Greg hopes to use his time in Vancouver to help him take in more of the Paralympic experience during this winter’s games, while remaining focused on the goal of winning another gold.
“I was a little on the younger side, and didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’m still working super hard, but I know what it takes and I can help some of our younger players. I don’t think I’ll let it all pass by so fast.”
After Socchi, Greg’s plans are up in the air. He hopes to continue representing Team USA as part of the Sled Hockey team that will participate in South Korea, but his focus will turn towards school as well. Greg plans to enroll in the University of Central Florida to study computer science.
Greg also remains a large part of the NAC family, who he credits for giving him the support needed to accomplish his goals. He encourages anyone interested in adaptive sports to give them a try.
“Don’t let anything hold you back. You never know what you’re going to like. I hadn’t seen snow until I was 12 or 13 and look at me now.”