Headstrong as ever, the seasoned defender has asserted herself at a chronological blue line, braced for Father Time’s daunting rush. The numbers, and natural law, are against her.
Monica Quimby, 37, doesn’t care. A de facto enforcer on the highly successful U.S. women’s development sled hockey team, Quimby remains in dogged pursuit of Paralympic gold. Problem is, women’s sled hockey isn’t on the Paralympic Winter Games slate and won’t be until 2030 at the earliest, when Quimby will be in her mid-40s.
But when adversity has remained a bedfellow your entire adult life, you don’t sweat the reality of middle age. You check it, hard.
“Oh, I’m fighting,” said Quimby, who resides in Lakewood Ranch. “I’ll be going down swinging. I play defense.”
Paralyzed from the waist down in a 2006 skiing accident, Quimby has evolved into one of her sport’s most physical players and fiercest advocates. Starting Thursday, she and the Lightning sled team join 29 other NHL-affiliated sled clubs for the 13th USA Hockey Sled Classic at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel. The Lightning will compete in Tier 4.
Thing is, Quimby could be the lone female on the Tampa Bay roster. “We might have one more that will be coming as well,” she added.
The disparity typifies the struggle Quimby and her peers have endured to find their spot on the Paralympic stage.
While sled ice hockey at the Paralympics technically has been a mixed-gender event for more than a decade, only three female players have participated in the Games as of 2022. The U.S. team never has featured a woman.
“Even though there’s been more than one that has been good enough to play,” Quimby said.
Undeterred, the U.S. women’s development team forges on with the subtlety of a steamroller. At the 2023 Women’s World Challenge — a fledgling event staged in early September in Green Bay, Wisconsin — the U.S. posted four shutouts in as many games to capture its second consecutive gold medal.
“Our girls have one mission right now,” U.S. coach Rose Misiewicz said at the event, “and that’s to take this sport globally.”
The event featured only three other teams: Canada, Great Britain and Team World (players from Europe, North America and Asia). The prerequisite for the Paralympics is at least eight teams spanning at least three continents, according to Quimby.
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“We’ve had two world challenges and we’ve won gold back-to-back these last two years,” she said. “We’re on our way to have a world championship, then the next stop would be Paralympics.”
Raised in Maine, Quimby was a sophomore skier on the University of New Hampshire’s club team in 2006 when a freak accident altered her life. Swerving to avoid a snowboarder on a trail, she struck the top of a ski jump sideways and flew through the air. The landing broke the L1 vertebrae in her back, leaving her paralyzed.
Disillusioned with sports in the accident’s immediate wake, she earned a degree in molecular biology and a master’s in higher education, ultimately becoming an adjunct professor at a Maine community college. Ultimately, she again gravitated toward athletics, taking up para-canoeing after moving to Florida, and earning a silver medal at the 2014 Lake Placid International Regatta in New York.
“I got a silver medal, which was great, but I was actually recruiting people from the sled hockey team that was down in Fort Myers to come try para-canoe and I fell in love with sled hockey,” Quimby said. “So the opposite happened. So instead of going for Rio in (the 2016 Paralympic Games) for para-canoe, I switched (to sled hockey).”
One of her early mentors in her new sport: Berkeley Prep alumnus Declan Farmer, a bilateral amputee and three-time Winter Paralympics gold medalist. Within about eight months, Farmer had imparted to her most of the sport’s basics and nuances.
She learned of the core strength required to navigate the sleds, which feature two blades anywhere from 2 inches to a half-inch apart (depending on one’s skill level). She learned how to propel herself with the pair of sticks afforded each player, smaller versions of hockey sticks which feature ice picks on one end that provide traction on the ice.
She quickly realized there’s no backward skating, but virtually all other rules of conventional hockey apply.
“It’s full check,” Quimby said.
“Those boards are really hard, there’s no flex where we get hit. I think that shocks people at first, when you see that it’s a full-check adaptive sport. I love that part of the game, it’s just so fun. It’s so full contact ... but everybody is friends. When you’re on the ice, you’re playing the game, but everybody is super supportive. It’s just such a great environment.”
By 2014, Quimby had earned an alternate spot on the women’s national team. Four years later, she scored her first international goal in a 7-0 romp of Team Europe during the Women’s International Para Ice Hockey Cup in the Czech Republic. Upon winning that event, the team was informed it would be included under USA Hockey’s umbrella, meaning it would get sponsorship money and training perks.
A half-decade later, the quest for equality on the international stage moves forward, if ever so deliberately. Stands to reason.
No going backward in this sport.
“We’re definitely going in the right direction,” Quimby said.
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
USA Hockey Sled Classic
What: Four-day event featuring 30 sled hockey teams associated with NHL clubs. Teams compete in one of six tiers (Lightning are in Tier 4).
When/where: Thursday-Sunday, AdventHealth Center Ice, Wesley Chapel
Schedule: Thursday — Games at 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m.; Friday — First game begins at 7 a.m., last game begins at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday — First game begins at 7 a.m., last game begins at 9 p.m.; Sunday — First game begins at 7 a.m., last game begins at 12:15 p.m. (A complete game schedule can be found at LightningHockeyDevelopment.com)
Of note: The Lightning and AdventHealth Center Ice also will host a Try Sled Hockey for Free event Saturday at 1:30 p.m. to bring awareness to the game and offer opportunities for those to the sport.
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