by Aaron Wilson
June 26, 02014
Retired Marine Sgt. Josh Sweeney, a member of the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team, was named the inaugural winner of the Pat Tillman award.
Sweeney lost both of his legs in Afghanistan in an explosion.
A Purple Heart award recipient, Sweeney scored the game-winning goal in a victory over Russia as the United States won its second consecutive gold medal.
A former Arizona Cardinals safety, Tillman died in action in Afghanistan in 2004 after enlisting in the U.S. Army to join his brother, Kevin.
Sweeney will receive the award at the 2014 Espy Awards on July 16. It's being presented by the Pat Tillman Foundation, which invests in military veterans and their spouses through educational scholarships.
"While the ESPYs celebrate the best accomplishments from the year in sports, we remain committed to social responsibility and the heart of the show has always been the presentation of the signature awards which, in the name of Arthur Ashe and Jim Valvano, annually honor leaders who make an impact far beyond sports," ESPN vice president Connor Schell said. "We are proud to add Pat Tillman's commitment to service and selflessness as another pillar of the ESPYs. Josh Sweeney's dedication and achievements make him a deserving recipient."
Sweeney was concerned at first that he'd never play hockey again.
"It was the same feeling as when I was in high school or even junior high -- just being out there with some buddies and passing the puck around, shooting the puck -- that feeling when you step out on the field or the ice, whatever your sport," Sweeney told the Associated Press. "Right then and there I knew it was something that I loved. It was awesome being able to represent my country again in a different way. After being injured you think, 'What can I do now?' or 'What are my limitations?'
"Being out there on the ice and seeing what I could do helped make me feel better about myself. The fact that it was so hard to get to where I am today -- the training was just endless and some days it felt like I got on the ice for no reason at all and I wasn't getting any better -- it really helped me emotionally to push through and look at the right things I was doing. The positive things."
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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun