March 5, 2014 Updated: March 6, 2014 at 7:24 am
Colorado natives Tyler Carron and Nikko Landeros were coming home from a high school dance in January 2007 when a flat tire forced them to pull off to the side of a narrow rural road.
Another teenage driver came around the bend, didn't see them and collided with their SUV, pinning the wrestlers between the vehicles.
The Berthoud High School wrestlers both would eventually lose their legs.
But Carron and Landeros did not lose each other; quite the opposite.
Their bond as friends and now as sled hockey teammates drew them closer and working together, along with 15 others, toward a singular goal: help the U.S. repeat as Paralympic champions in Sochi.
"We're brothers now and we fight like brothers," Carron said. "I know I can look to him for support because we understand what each of us is going through."
Landeros played club hockey as a youth but gave it up to focus on football and wrestling; a sport Carron first drew Landeros into as a child.
About a year after the crash, Landeros returned the favor when they had a chance to take up sled hockey.
"I understood the game and all that helped," he said. "It's hockey. It's a little different, but it is still the game."
Both had to recover from arm injuries as well which slowed Carron's early hockey development and kept him on the junior national team while Landeros played for the 2010 Olympic champions. Carron has made up for lost time.
"If I were to pick a Most Improved Player award, Tyler would be one of the three," said national team coach Jeff Sauer, a former Colorado College coach and assistant. "Their time together with their club team (Avalanche) and their friendship is a great help to them."
"It took time to learn the nuances," Carron said. "Wrestling is pretty tough so that prepared me for the physical demands while football is a team sport so I learned how to play together with others. Seeing Nikko and watching how he plays helps. I really want to be part of what he was able to do."
Like any brother does.
"We push each other and if one of us accomplishes something the other one wants to do that too," Landeros said. "Most importantly, we support each other."
They will need each other and their teammates in Sochi when play opens Saturday against Italy. A potential showdown with Canada in the semifinals or medal round looms. Canada is the top seed in Group A, while USA has top billing in Group B.
"We watched both (men's and women's Olympic) games against Canada on TV and the guys have a commitment that they do not want to be the third team (to lose)," Sauer told the Paralympic News Service. "The guys in our room know they are representing a pretty heavy thing here and have a chance to win a gold medal."
Landeros thinks the U.S. team is peaking. The team spent most of February practicing at World Arena.
"We are younger and a lot faster," Landeros said. "We won the best-of-three series (in January) with (No. 1 seed) Canada so we are feeling pretty good about our chances."