The Beijing Winter Paralympics Opening Ceremony is set for March 4th, and SportsEngine is spotlighting the reigning and emerging stars for Team USA. Check out the third installment with six insights on Brody Roybal, a two-time Paralympic gold medalist and three-time World Champion in sled hockey. Born without femurs in either leg, Roybal was the youngest member of the U.S. Paralympic team that won gold at the 2014 Sochi Paralympics when he was 15 years old. You'll learn about his journey, including in the formative years that helped propel that athlete to become one of the nation's—and world's—best.
1. Brody Roybal was born without legs.
However, by nine months old, Brody was moving around with his hands and elbows, according to the Chicago Tribune. His parents encouraged his independence, and their Northlake, Illinois home was adapted to accommodate Brody. For instance, he climbs a box to get into his bed, and he does not use a wheelchair in the house.
"We always told him life's going to be hard," Robert Roybal told the Tribune. "If he needs assistance, then we'll help him." Brody played T-ball, and he participated in adaptive softball and basketball.
But he liked contact, and he was drawn to sled hockey. By the time he was eight years old, he was a star player on his local team, the Chicago Hornets. He showed potential at USA Hockey's player development camps, and he made his debut for the national team during the 2013-2014 season.
2. At 12, Brody broke one elbow and injured the other in a skateboarding accident.
Utilizing his elbows as many kids use their knees, Brody landed hard on them, launching himself off the bed or stairs. After surgery, his father carried him around the house, and his classmates pushed him in a wheelchair. But Brody didn't like that. "It was pretty awful," Brody told the Tribune. "I couldn't play hockey for a while. It sucked."
3. At the 2014 Sochi Paralympics, Brody was the youngest member of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team.
Brody needed an exemption to become a part of this team since International Paralympic Committee guidelines for sled hockey require competitors to be 16 years old. But Brody proved he belonged, scoring twice in the opening game (which the U.S. won 5-1), and the U.S. went on to defend its Paralympic title.
"It was such a great opportunity for me, being such a young age and being able to go over there with such a great team," he said. "And we got it done."
Brody was the leading scorer at the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics in South Korea with 17 points and scored ten goals. He assisted on a goal in the final minute of regulation to force overtime in the gold-medal game, and he was named the tournament MVP. He also won the 2018 USA Hockey Adult Sled Hockey National Championship.
4. Brody competed in high school wrestling, earning the respect of opponents and peers.
After pinning Brody in just over a minute, one opponent told him, "It's amazing what you're doing. You're an inspiration to us all." His coach, Mike Fumagalli, encouraged Brody, who is 3 foot 1, to try and utilize his advantage, namely his 6-foot-6 wingspan and his 220-pound max on the bench press. "I tried it, and it's awesome," Brody told the Tribune. "It's a crazy sport."
5. Brody is a social media star.
He and his girlfriend, Menecis Garriga, have a joint TikTok account with 1.9 million followers and more than 60 million likes. Their most viewed video has them dancing alongside one another and features a guest appearance from their curious dog. The couple has known each other since they were 4, but they started dating about four years ago.
"What he's lacking in his body, he more than makes up for in his personality," Garriga told The Sun. "He's one of the kindest, most caring souls I've ever met. He refuses to let anything hold him back – and I've never been happier."
6. The toughest team he will face is likely Canada.
Since sled hockey was introduced at the 1994 Paralympic Games, Team USA has taken home four gold medals. Their biggest threat at these Paralympics is likely Canada. But Brody told Team USA that this is the best team yet.
"I think we have a great group of guys now that are really dedicated to the sport and to the game," he said. "Everyone is just a big family, and we all really care for each other. We're all supporting each other and pushing each other. I'm really, really confident in this team." So how much longer does Brody want to play sled hockey? "I would love to play this sport as long as I possibly can," he said, noting that teammate Rico Roman will turn 41 on February 4th. "I would love to play as long as he's gotten to play. I still feel like I'm young and have a lot ahead of me in my career."