AS 49-YEAR-OLD PAUL Rosen takes to the ice in Vancouver next month, he is training his sights on a single goal — allowing none. Rosen, the top ranked sledge hockey goalie in the world, will once again represent Canada in the Paralympic Games.
Since Team Canada’s goldmedal win in 2006, he has given back to a group of people who represent Canada in a different way. Rosen has participated in Soldier On, a program that introduces injured soldiers to Paralympic sports.
Doing something for the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country has been a humbling experience, he says. Rosen knows firsthand what it’s like to lose a limb.
At 15, Rosen broke his leg in 14 places during a hockey tournament. He underwent multiple surgeries over the next 24 years, in hopes that his leg could be mended. In 1997, when his leg broke again while standing in a German airport, he was forced to endure yet another round of surgeries.
Following one of these procedures, Rosen developed an acute infection in his knee. “I thought I was going to die from what was going on with my leg and my body,” he says.
In 1999, he was given three months to live unless he had his leg amputated.
After losing his right leg above the knee, Rosen decided to go to Variety Village to explore the world of disabled sports. While there, he met Shayne Smith, who now plays wheelchair basketball for Canada’s junior team. He credits the athlete with introducing him to the Markham Islanders, a local sledge hockey team.
Rosen joined the team and quickly impressed his teammates with his skill, despite being slightly older. One of his teammates, Rob Lagace, was playing for Team Canada at the time.
Lagace persuaded him to try out, Rosen says.
In 2002, with the long-time Thornhill resident minding the net, Canada’s sledge hockey team placed fourth in Salt Lake City.
Rosen has since gone on to capture his first gold medal in Torino at the 2006 Games.
It’s a remarkable journey Rosen shares as a motivational speaker.
He says he hopes to teach people, especially kids, that anything is possible.
“No matter what happens to you — today, tomorrow, next week — you can always find the good in a situation,” he says.
Rosen had always been involved in charity work and started speaking at SickKids Hospital after he lost his leg. Like his skills on the ice, public speaking came naturally to Rosen.
“Most of the guys on my team say I’ve got quite a big mouth,” he says and laughs.
It began with a simple desire to help others, says Rosen. But his newfound path unfolded from there as he was booked by large companies and sports teams to tell his incredible story.
Looking back at the past 10 years, Rosen says he wouldn’t be where he is today without a positive attitude.
“That’s the way I live my life,”he says.“If I didn’t feel that, I wouldn’t be alive.”
But Rosen says his greatest source of motivation is his fan base back home — his family. After going through a tough divorce, he has found love again. He and his girlfriend, Louise Berman, each have three grown children.
Rosen says he has bonded with his girlfriend’s youngest over sports. He helps her son, Mitch, with his volleyball game. The 17- year-old plays for Thornlea Secondary School’s team.
For Rosen, Thornhill is home.
As a child, he lived in the Henderson neighbourhood with his parents. Now, having spent nearly four decades in Thornhill, he lives near the Promenade Mall. “I’ve grown up here, I’ve had my kids here, and I want to retire here,” he says.
As Rosen prepares for the Paralympics next month, he will be training hard to ready himself for the challenge of defending Canada’s gold-medal status in sledge hockey.
“Playing for my country is one of the greatest thrills of all time,” he says.