TAMPA — Declan Farmer collected gold medals as a member of the U.S. sled hockey team at his first two Paralympic Games, so as the Tampa native prepares to depart this week for his third, he has something else on his mind.
To help some of his teammates get their first.
“There’s a lot of guys on our team who haven’t won a gold medal, yet,” said Farmer, 24, a Berkeley Prep alumnus. “So this is a brand new thing. What happened in the past is done, and we’re just 17 competitors who have a great responsibility and opportunity to give it our best go in Beijing and do everything we absolutely can to bring home the gold medal.”
Farmer was born a bilateral amputee, the left leg above the knee, the right below. He started his sled hockey career at 9 years old, trying the sport for the first time at a clinic in Clearwater.
After playing on the Tampa Bay Lightning Sled Hockey Team, he began to make his mark on the national scene by attending USA Hockey’s Player Development Camps starting in 2010. At 14, he made his first U.S. National Sled Hockey Team for the 2013-14 season.
He was voted the International Paralympic Committee’s Best Male Athlete while helping the United States win gold at the 2014 Winter Paralympic Games in Sochi. That same year, he received an ESPY Award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability. Four years later, he scored 11 goals (tying the U.S. and Paralympic record for most at one Games), including the tying and winning goals in the gold-medal game, in PyeongChang.
He can’t wait to add to his experiences on the biggest international stage for athletes with disabilities next week in Beijing.
“It’s such a tremendous honor, responsibility and opportunity,” Farmer said. “It’s incredible.”
Of the players on this year’s U.S. team, only Josh Paul (three) has more than Farmer’s two gold medals. Three others on the team also have won two.
Farmer believes the team can win the program’s program’s fourth straight gold medal dating back to the Vancouver Games in 2010 — and fifth overall — with the help of its five rookies: David Eustace, Malik Jones, Griffin LaMarre, Evan Nichols and Joseph Woodke.
The U.S. will open play at the Paralympic Games March 5 against Canada. It will then face South Korea on March 6 and the Russian Paralympic Committee on March 8.
“It’s going to be a lot of tough games from the start,” Farmer said.
The pandemic has made it difficult for the team to compete together. But it got a glimpse of the competition it will face in Beijing in a 5-1 win over Canada at the World Para Ice Hockey Championships last summer.
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After graduating from Princeton with a degree in economics in the spring of 2020, Farmer moved to Nashville, where he was joined by a small group of his Paralympic teammates. By January, the entire team had moved to the Tennessee capital for the winter residency program, which takes place before every Paralympic Games.
For the past two months, the group has trained together full-time, practicing daily, working away from the ice with a personal trainer and building chemistry through group activities like watching the NFL playoffs.
Given its past success, the team knows it will enter the Games with a target on its back, Farmer said.
“The guys who are coming up and are new are pushing the current guys to keep improving, and the current guys are just competitive among themselves to keep getting better,” he said. “I think we’re a much better team than we were four years ago. That’s no disrespect to any of the guys who are no longer on the team, but it’s a testament to the growth of the sport and all the hard work we’ve put in over the last few years.”
No matter how the team finishes, Farmer says it likely will not be his last Paralympics.
“(I have) nothing to prove (anymore),” he said. “I just love playing. I love playing sled hockey. I love playing on this team. I’m always obligated to give it my best every time I get on the ice with these guys.
“… Being on this team is a pillar of my life, and I can’t really imagine what it would be like not having this.”
Contact Mari Faiello at email@example.com. Follow @faiello_mari.
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