Thursday, March 23, 2023

Local Athletic Trainer Goes to Sochi with U.S. Sled Hockey Team

Local physical therapist and athletic trainer Michael Cortese spends most of his days rehabbing patients at Bethesda Health Outpatient Rehabilitation in Boynton Beach.

But when it came time for the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, his other job took center stage. See, Cortese is a U.S. National Sled Hockey team trainer, and this year, his team took home the gold.

For those unfamiliar with sled hockey, think traditional ice hockey. The difference is that players sit on a small metal sled and have sticks in both hands. The sled is equipped with two skate blades directly underneath where a player is seated.

“[It’s] kind of like sitting in an ice skate,” Cortese says.

Athletes with physical disabilities, including amputations, spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy, can play the sport. This year’s U.S. Paralympic team was composed of 17 men: military men, who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan; men born with disabilities, such as spina bifida; and others who became disabled from accidents and illness.

The team trained for eight months to prepare for the Paralympics, meeting once a month for training sessions in places like Buffalo in New York and Indian Trail in North Carolina.

On March 15, the team won a match against the Russian Federation at the Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, securing the gold for the U.S.

The team was honored at the White House on April 2 and was also featured in the PBS film “Ice Warriors: USA Sled Hockey,” which chronicled the team’s journey to the Paralympic games.

Cortese shares a few thoughts with The Fit Life readers about the trip, as well as what he learned from the experience that will help active people from all walks of life.

Boca Mag: What kind of training did these athletes do to prepare for the sled hockey competition at Sochi?

Michael Cortese: Most of the time—because it’s all upper extremity activities—it’s a lot of upper body strength and endurance and cardiovascular exercises … [Maneuvering the sled] takes a lot of trunk stability or core stability. They’re kind of tied into this sled. It goes around their waist. If their pelvis is locked to the sled, all of the control comes out of their trunk. They’re tremendously strong. People don’t realize how strong they are.

BM: What did your role with the U.S. Paralympic sled hockey team teach you about rehabbing patients in here?

MC: Just because one door is closing, it doesn’t mean all doors are closed. Maybe somebody can’t play tennis anymore because their knees are bad. … there are alternatives. In other words, it doesn’t mean they can’t play golf, just because they can’t run around on the tennis court. You see professional athletes do it all the time. Say they can’t play basketball or football anymore, so they take up golf or some other general activity. There’s generally something out there for everybody, if they’re interested in trying it.

BM: Can you give my readers glimpse of what it was like in Sochi?

MC: The United States Olympic Committee did a very nice job of making all the arrangements. I never felt any security threats. But it was interesting … because we were actually there [at the start of the situation with Crimea]. Most of the volunteers were college-aged students. They put on a good face. [But] behind them were security forces with the grumpy looks on their faces and their weapons.

We went into the town and people were very friendly to us, but I do know that people don’t want to run into the police. When we were riding in cab, a guy was jaywalking. We weren’t going very fast, but he kind of ran into our car. His backpack flew off. He looked around, jumped up, grabbed everything and took off running. Our cab driver exited the area pretty quickly. When I got back, I said to [the cab driver], ‘I assume you don’t want to run into the police.’ He said no because it costs everybody money.

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About Lisette
Lisette Hilton, president of Words Come Alive, has had the luxury of reporting on health, fitness and other hot topics for more than 23 years. The longtime Boca Raton resident, University of Florida graduate and fitness buff writes for local, regional and national publications and websites. Find out more on

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