Kyle Malin grew up in Minnesota and never picked up a hockey stick. It wasn’t until he moved to the heat of Texas that he found his comfort zone in an ice rink
“I go down to Texas and I find a team here,” he said with a laugh.
The retired Army Staff Sergeant, grew up in a small town, not far from Minneapolis. His dad was his high school’s wrestling coach, so that was his winter sport focus. He also was active on the football and track teams.
“I’ve always had a bit of a competitive streak,” he said.
Kyle joined the Army soon after high school. He served three tours of duty in Iraq. On his fourth deployment in Afghanistan, Kyle headed out on a rescue mission to assist a fellow soldier that had been injured by a land mine. While attempting to clear the area, Kyle stepped on a land mine.
He woke up at Walter Reed four days later missing both of his legs above the knee, and eventually transitioned to the Center for the Intrepid at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
During his recovery, Kyle went through more than 70 surgeries, more than 2 years of therapy to heal his damaged legs and relearn to walk. It was there that he was introduced to Operation Comfort, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, and adaptive sports.
He headed out on a cycling ride with Operation Comfort to get out of the hospital.
“Regular gym physical therapy can be a bit monotonous,” said Malin.
One of his friends was a member of Operation Comfort’s sled hockey team, the San Antonio Rampage, and convinced Kyle to try out the sport.
“It was a great workout,” said Malin. “The teamwork, and camaraderie, and competitiveness, it was just always a great time every time I went out.”
Operation Comfort, a chapter of Disabled Sports USA, has provided a free year-round sled hockey program for veterans since 2007. Each year their team is among the most competitive team in their league, and three team members, Rico Roman, Jen Lee and Josh Sweeney, represented Team USA in Sochi in the 2014 Paralympic Games.
Kyle knows that playing with those team members has helped the Rampage grow tremendously.
“We’re always pushing each other to do our best,” said Malin. “They come back from camp and teach us their drills, and it really helps us grow.”
Playing with that group has encouraged Kyle to bring his game to another level. He tried out for the U.S. National Team last year, and is hoping for a better result this year when he heads to tryouts. Whether he makes the team or not, he’ll continue to play the sport he’s grown to love.
“It’s the best part of my week, other than hanging with my kids and family,” he said.
Family is important to Kyle and his fondest memory of the sport was his first tournament, which just happened to take place in his home state.
“Minnesota was still in our league, and I got to go home,” said Malin. “My parents and family were there. They saw me score my first goal.”
The father of two boys, Kyle is happy to be able to show his sons his successes in the rink.
“It shows them that no matter what happens in life, there’s always something positive in it,” he said.
This is a message he tells others that are newly injured and interested in trying out sled hockey for the first time
“Trying something new has always been a positive experience for me,” he said. “If it’s for your, that passion will come, and if it’s not you’ll always be able to find something else.”
To learn more about Operation Comfort’s sled hockey program, visit http://operationcomfort.org/programs/sled-hockey/.