Saturday, May 19, 2018
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Life after gold and the president: Berkeley Prep paralympian back to normal, sort of

Excitement fills the locker room as 17 men pull on red, white and blue jerseys with USA emblazoned on the chest. Players converse with one another, skittish excitement evident in their voices. Coaches and managers pace the room under the Shayba Arena in southern Sochi, Russia, clipboards clenched tightly in their hands. ∂ But Declan Farmer doesn't hear the frenzied buzzing around him. The red-haired 16-year-old is sitting on a locker-room bench, focused contemplation in his eyes, Eminem blasting in his ears. ∂ In minutes, his dream will come true.

The minutes pass, suspense lacing each second. Within the hour, the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team will claim the gold in a 1-0 match against host nation Russia.

An elated Team USA assembles on the ice, grinning, laughing, weeping.

As his name booms through the arena, Farmer examines a gleaming gold medal, turning it over and over in his hands. His medal. In ecstatic shock, Farmer holds up his pointer finger, an exhilarated smile on his face.

That scene of a lifetime for the Berkeley Prep sophomore was part of a whirlwind past few months. After traveling across the world and winning Paralympic gold in March, Farmer, who was voted by the International Paralymic Committee as Best Male Athlete in the Paralympic Games, has returned to the more mundane routine of school and practice — and piles and piles of makeup work.

Farmer's medal is stowed away. "It's in my dresser," he said with a laugh. That's not to say he doesn't value his achievement — the road to Sochi wasn't an easy one. For Farmer, who was born a bilateral amputee, the journey to the Paralympics began at a clinic in Clearwater, when he was first introduced to sled hockey as an 8-year-old.

In elementary school, Farmer's passion for the sport and an insatiable need for speed, allowed him to excel, even against opponents twice his age. In 2012, Farmer broke records as the youngest player to make the U.S. team. Despite his age, the teen sled hockey hero is no benchwarmer; at the close of the 2013-14 season, Farmer, a forward, tied for the team lead in both points and goals.

"It's like playing against Gretzky all night," says former Lightning player Brian Bradley, who faced Farmer at a recent charity exhibition. Hearing this, Farmer smiles humbly. "Still have a long way to go before that," he said.

While his friends and teammates herald his accomplishments, the modest forward dismisses such accolades, crediting his teammates for his success. "I'm pretty relaxed on and off the ice," he said with a shrug.

Farmer's colleagues beg to differ. "On the ice, he's ruthless. He will not hesitate to take someone out or slam them up against the boards to get the puck," said Abram Scharf, a close friend. "But off the ice, he's incredibly humble and compassionate."

Farmer's commitment to sled hockey is awe-inspiring. When he's not practicing with the national team, Farmer skates with his club team, lifts weight and hand cycles. "The fact that he excels to the extent that he does in this sport is truly a testament to his hardworking nature," Scharf said.

In July, Farmer will reunite with several members of Team USA for national team trials. Already, he and his teammates have their sights set on the 2018 games, which will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Following his return from the Paralympics, Farmer served as the social captain at a Tampa Bay Lightning game, where he dropped the ceremonial puck. He also attended a banquet at the White House for U.S. Olympians and Paralympians, where President Obama mentioned him in his address to the athletes. The president commended Farmer's efforts in the semi-final against Canada, during which Farmer scored two goals and assisted another. "Visiting (the White House) was the best part about returning home," he said with a grin. "It was awesome."

The worst part of re-entry? "The make-up work. I've missed about 40 days of school this year," he said. "I procrastinate a lot, but I pretty much do my work like any other student-athlete. Just between practices and stuff. Everything's really just normal."

   
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