[caption id="attachment_106" align="alignright" width="235"] James Connelly after winning the gold medal in Vancouver in 2010. Credit Courtesy James Connelly[/caption]
James Connelly and the U.S. national team are slated to defend their championship in March
By John Arthur, Patch.com
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James Connelly tried baseball when he was younger, but after a back surgery the sport became impossible for him to play. Then Connelly, who was born with Spina Bifida, a condition that affects the spine, tried wheelchair basketball and track, but found that neither sport "really clicked."
"I like to hit people," Connelly said. "You can't really do it in either of those sports."
Fortunately for Connelly, there is sled hockey, a sport he discovered after surgery in 2002, when he was 12. He decided to give the sport a try with the Vineland Sled Stars, a junior club.
Now, 10 years later, at age 22, Connelly has competed at the highest level possible for a sled hockey player: He has helped the U.S. national team to a gold medal win in the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, he recently competed with the national team in the World Sledge Hockey Challenge, taking second after a loss to Canada, and in March he will be playing again with the national team to defend their world championship, which they won in 2009.
"This is our NHL," said Connelly of playing with the national team. "It's pretty awesome, but obviously there's no feeling like winning gold in the olympics like we did in Vancouver in 2010."
Connelly has lived in Galloway his entire life. He graduated from Absegami High School in 2008 and is currently attending Richard Stockton College, studying criminal justice. But while still a student, Connelly works nearly year-round at sled hockey, training for summer tryouts and practices, then competing from as early as October until as late as May.
He says he is confident that he and his teammates are ready to defend their national title in Norway in March.
"We have a really young team, but at the same time, we have a lot of experience," he said. "I think we have somewhere around eight or nine players returning from the gold medal team in Vancouver."
Of course, he and his teammates will be busy training and playing in tournaments until their championship appearance in March.
"By then, we will have more games under our belt," said Connelly.