The Charleston Warriors – a team of service-disabled local veterans – are headed to Rockville, Maryland from August 20th to 22nd to face off in the USA Warriors Sled Hockey Tournament, a first of its kind event for military members and veterans wounded or injured in service.
Since 2008, the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program has offered service-disabled veterans a way to rehabilitate physically and emotionally, and connect through traditional and sled hockey. Though the program started in Maryland for patients recovering at Walter Reed, it has since expanded as patients returned home and started affiliate programs across the country—like the Charleston Warriors.
Air Force and Army Reserve veteran and Charleston Warriors founder Marc Fountain tried to return to traditional hockey after he was medically retired from the military and his job in civilian law enforcement, but head injuries he’d sustained impacted his coordination and depth perception, and he suffered nerve issues in his hands.
He was introduced to sled hockey through the New England Warriors, another sister program based out of Lewiston, Maine.
“I hated it, I was falling over and I just did nothing,” said Fountain. “But like anything else I hate, I tried a second time to see how much I really hated it. And the second time got better and then the third time got better and everything just started clicking.”
After moving to Charleston, he took a leap and worked to bring the Warriors program to disabled veterans in South Carolina.
“It’s all about being there again and treating yourself like an athlete,” he said. “It’s like being back in a military unit, everybody brings something to the table and if someone needs something, everybody is there—it’s your family.”
This year’s tournament signals an important return to tournament play for team members after many months of restrictions, giving players a chance to get back to the game that has been so important to their physical and mental health alongside fellow veterans.
“After a year away from the game, we know how much it means for these men and women to have a chance to be on the ice and, more importantly, to be back among fellow veterans,” said USA Warriors president Gary Rosenfeld. “This program has been a lifeline for many individuals and we’re proud to see everyone ready to get back in the game.”
Fountain won’t be playing in this year’s tournament, as he was recently re-diagnosed with a phosphaturic mesenchymal tumor—a rare type of tumor that causes vitamin deficiencies and a softening of his bones, often leading to osteoporosis and microfractures. But he said he looks forward to getting back on the ice soon.
“For me it’s just a sense of normality, just getting back into something and being a part of it,” said Fountain. “Hockey was just one of those things that I loved and when there were so many restrictions on my physical activity, the thought process was that I used to be able to do this but can’t now.”