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15-year-old Brody Roybal headed for Sochi Paralympics in sled hockey

By: MARTHA IRVINE AP National WriterBy MARTHA IRVINE The Associated Press
February 24, 2014 Updated: February 24, 2014 at 7:21 pm
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photo - Brody Roybal, 15, practices with his high school hockey team in Franklin Park, Ill., on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Roybal, a high school sophomore, is the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team which will play in Sochi, Russia in March 2014. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine)
Brody Roybal, 15, practices with his high school hockey team in Franklin Park, Ill., on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. Roybal, a high school sophomore, is the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team which will play in Sochi, Russia in March 2014. (AP Photo/Martha Irvine) 

NORTHLAKE, Ill. - Brody Roybal was born with no legs. But that didn't stop him from trying any number of sports at an early age.

His mom, Michelle Roybal, remembers thinking he looked like the Peanuts character Pigpen when he'd hit a baseball and kick up dust when using his arms to swing and scoot his upper torso down the baseline.

But baseball wasn't his sport. As soon as he tried sled hockey, at age 7, he found his passion.

"That was it," says Roybal, who's now 15 and a sophomore in high school in suburban Chicago. "It's all I wanted to do."

Roybal joined a youth sled hockey team in the Chicago area known as the Hornets. The participants, who can't use traditional skates because of varying disabilities, sit in sleds and use two shorter sticks to propel them around the ice and to control the puck.

By age 12, Roybal was so good that he started playing with an adult team. J.J. O'Connor, co-founder and general manager of the Hornets, says coaches saw Roybal's potential.

"I'm telling you right now," one coach told O'Connor, "this kid has the potential to be the best that's ever played the game."

Now Roybal is the youngest U.S. Paralympic athlete - a member of the national sled hockey team headed to Sochi, Russia, to defend its gold medal from the 2010 games. The team is the subject of a PBS documentary called "Ice Warriors" that began airing Monday.

O'Connor, who lost use of his arms and legs after a hockey accident when he was a teen, said he feels like he's living vicariously through Roybal.

In many ways, Roybal says, he's "just another average teenager," - one, he adds, "who's lucky enough to go to the Olympics."

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