Tyler Carron and Nikko Landeros have faced off against some major life changes – and won. Yet, not a whole lot about these two young U.S. National Sled Hockey Team defencemen has fundamentally changed.
What has changed is that five years ago, both had legs, and now, they don’t. What hasn’t changed is pretty much everything else. They’re still good buddies, ambitious souls, typical 22-year-old guys and elite-level athletes who won’t accept anything less than the best from themselves, or each other.
“We don’t even really look at it like we don’t have legs,” explained Carron, who along with Landeros, was changing a flat tire on the side of a rural road in Berthoud, Colo., following a mid-winter high school dance, when they were both struck and pinned between two SUVs. “We’re the same kids.”
“We played sports before, so we had a really competitive attitude then,” said Landeros. “So we just make everything like a sport … even walking.”
The horrific collision on that dark, snowy road back in January 2007 resulted in both teenagers getting their legs amputated, a devastating blow for the two multi-sport athletes who exceled in football and wrestling.
But as Landeros emphasized, “we always strive to win,” and it wasn’t long before he and Carron found artificial limbs, the strength to use them – and sledge hockey.
“When we first started, we tried and didn’t really like it,” Landeros said with a laugh of giving the sport a shot not long after they were released from hospital. “We both had different injuries that held us back from playing.”
“Really, it was just time that healed,” Carron added of overcoming obstacles ranging from learning how to use their new legs, to going through intensive hand therapy due to severe nerve damage. But months of rehabilitation and training turned an unfamiliar sport into an undeniable passion.
“We love it,” Landeros said of sledge. “It’s probably the coolest sport you can play if you’re disabled, I think. You can hit people, everything is the exact same as normal hockey, except you’re in a sled. Even able-bodied people can’t play sledge hockey … it’s hard!”
After joining their local sledge team, the NHL-affiliated Colorado Avalanche, Landeros, who had played hockey as a boy, quickly moved on and up to the national squad, winning a gold medal with the United States at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C. Carron, a former state wrestling star, quickly followed suit, joining the national team in 2010-11.
“We wanted to make the national team,” Landeros said. “It’s kind of just, setting goals that we learned before to achieve different things.”
While other sports occupied their time before the collision that claimed their legs, Carron said mono-skiing, wakeboarding and, of course, sledge hockey are their preferred activities now, and definitely, “keep us busy.”
“Sports make you tougher,” he said of how continuing to live an active lifestyle has helped them overcome obstacles resulting from their injuries. So while they’ve had to adjust what and how they play, Carron and Landeros continue to compete, laughing along the way.
“We’ve got self-confidence,” Landeros added. “We’re a lot bigger than people with legs, even, so we don’t worry about that at all.”
Okay, perhaps something else has changed. As the two young jocks joke around, even finishing each other’s sentences, it’s clear they’re more like brothers than buddies.
“We were friends then, (but) now we’re pretty much family,” Landeros said.
Carron said having each other has made their shared journey “a lot easier, because you have someone to talk about your problems with, and to just kind of keep you going.”
“It’s weird to say, but it’s better than having one of us die, or … something could have happened to our brain, but we got lucky,” he said. “I’d say we’re blessed.”