Wounded Canadian veteran conquers sledge hockey
Saturday, 12.08.2012 / 3:00 AM
Arpon Basu - Managing
When Dominic Larocque was growing up in the Montreal suburb of St-Timothee, he was about as active as a young man could be.
He played high-level hockey up to the Junior A level, played top-tier football for his school, and played competitive soccer for his city.
So when Larocque turned 18 in 2005, he decided he would use that energy to benefit his country and enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces. Within two years, he would be deployed to Afghanistan, where he served near Kandahar.
About four months into his tour, on Nov. 27, 2007, Larocque's life took a drastic turn when the light armored vehicle he and two other soldiers were riding in drove over an improvised explosive device (IED). The three were taken by helicopter to a hospital to have their wounds tended to.
When Larocque woke up, he was in for quite a shock.
"I was never told, I only found out when I woke up," Larocque said. "I was taken by helicopter, I woke up three days later and I was missing a leg."
Larocque's left leg was amputated above the knee and he was sent home to his current residence of Quebec City to begin a rehabilitation regimen with an artificial leg.
"I basically had to learn how to live again," Larocque said. "It really wasn't easy. Even standing up was difficult."
It took Larocque about three years, but he eventually adapted to his new limb and entered the work force when he realized there was a void from his pre-military life he wanted to fill.
"Once I was finished my rehab, once I was able to walk and live my day-to-day life," he said, "I decided I needed to find a sport."
Of the three sports he used to play, football and soccer were out of the question. But hockey presented an interesting option Larocque had never considered.
Late in 2009, a program that gets former military personnel involved in sports called Soldier On arranged to have a Montreal sledge hockey team run a clinic in Quebec City and demonstrate the equipment.
"I was hooked right away," Larocque said.
Larocque bought his first sledge in January 2010 and began playing for the Montreal Transats every second weekend. By September, Larocque was a member of Canada's national team.
"I put a lot of time and effort into it," he said, "but yes, it was pretty quick."
Larocque and his Canadian teammates are taking part in the 2012 World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Calgary this week, an international tournament that has teams competing from the United States, Japan and Norway. As is the case in the women's ice hockey program, and to a lesser extent in the men's program, Larocque and his Canadian teammates will be facing their fiercest rival in the gold-medal game Saturday at 5 p.m. (MST) at the Markin MacPhail Centre.
"Just like in ice hockey, our biggest rival is the U.S.," Larocque said, before adding with a laugh, "We really don't like each other."
For those who have never seen a sledge hockey game, it can be an eye-opening experience. First, you must get adjusted to watching players sitting in sleds sitting atop two regular-sized ice skating blades propelling themselves around the ice using two 75-centimeter hockey sticks with spikes on the butt end that they dig into the ice to gather momentum.
Once that adjustment is made, be prepared to watch some ruthlessly physical hockey.
"It's extremely physical," Larocque said. "You need a ton of upper-body strength to play because everything you do depends on your upper body. Plus body contact is allowed, so it can get rough."
Larocque, who enters the final Saturday tied for fourth on his team's and the tournament's scoring list with three goals and three assists in four games, said that on top of filling the competitive void that was left in his life, his experience with sledge hockey has given him some additional perspective on how his life turned one fateful day in Afghanistan five years ago.
"It's helped me so much meeting people from across Canada who have had various accidents or were maybe born with defects," he said. "It's made me realize that I don't have it so bad."