Brothers In Arms

Military Veterans Learn More Than Just The Game Working With U.S. National Team Members At Team Semper Fi Camp

Photos by Norman Hayward/USA Hockey

It would’ve taken a lot to wipe the smile off of Roberto Rojas’ face Wednesday.

Rojas had just gotten off the ice at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colo., and despite a few slips and stumbles along the way, the military veteran and San Diego native had nothing but positive things to say about his first time playing sled hockey.

Rojas is among 20 veterans participating in the Semper Fi Fund's Team Semper Fi Sled Hockey Camp this week. For four days, these vets will spend time honing their on-ice skills while picking up other vital skills through various sessions at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. It’s all a part of Team Semper Fi’s philosophy of helping improve the lives of veterans’ through sports.

For these 20 men and women, their levels of hockey experience widely vary. Some like Rojas have never skated before, while others play on teams in their local area. Despite their various levels of experience, there is plenty to be learned from Nikko Landeros and Paul Schaus, members of the U.S. Sled National Team who donated their time and talents to help mentor these sled hockey novices.

“Getting to compete against guys who have won gold medals, it’s so cool,” Rojas said. “These guys really want you to learn and become better.”

For Landeros and Schaus, Wednesday’s ice time brought back memories of their early sled hockey days. They used that experience to help teach these veterans some of the finer points of the game.

“Early on, it definitely can be frustrating,” said Landeros, who helped Team USA win a silver medal at this year’s Para Ice Hockey World Championship. “You just have to not get discouraged. Once you get through it, this sport can really help you.”

During the first skate of the week, the participants faced several challenges while getting acclimated with the ice. But that certainly hasn’t stopped them from having fun. Rojas said he is hoping to continue playing near his hometown in Utah.

Growing the sport is just one of the benefits of this event. And even for sled savants such as Schaus, this experience is still a memorable one.

“It’s always awesome to see people break through and find that love for the sport,” said Schaus, a veteran of the Marine Corps and Purple Heart award recipient. “Semper Fi does a lot of great things. It’s nice having all these organizations coming together to help better peoples’ lives.”

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