Sgt. Mike Kazimir was due to have potentially his last surgery, the 60th one at Walter Reed, this week, ending a three-year long recovery. But Kazimir put off the surgery because there was something even more meaningful to him this week.
“I told my doctor, ‘Do not schedule me before this event,’” Kazimir said. “This is kind of important.”
A day after the 2015 Winter Classic between the Capitals and the Blackhawks at Nationals Park, the ice will be host to the USA Warriors Game for military members who have been injured while serving their country. The purpose of the USA Warriors Ice Hockey Program is to provide a therapeutic experience.
“You’ve got to get back into society and you’ve got to find something you’re passionate about,” said Marine Corps Drill Sgt. Michael Vaccaro, the head coach for Friday’s game. “We give them the outlet to come play hockey, if that’s what they want to do.”
Kazimir first heard about the sled hockey program when someone mentioned it to him at Walter Reed. The Slovakian-born Marine had his reservations about sled hockey because he wanted to play standing up.
But in 2011 while in Iraq, his legs were damaged when the vehicle he was in ran over an improvised explosive device.
“I was just like, ‘No, no, I just want to wait until my legs are better, then I’m going to try to stand up,’” said Kazimir, who walks with a cain. “But I started to do sled, and I’m loving it.”
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Cain grew up playing roller hockey in Wisconsin, which drew teasing from all of his friends who skated on ice. In 2004, Cain’s vehicle rolled over a landmine, which blew up underneath him. His right leg had to be amputated first, then his left leg.
A Capitals fan, Cain was a spectator at the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field. On Wednesday, he and Kazimir toured Nationals Park and met the players they’ve admired, getting to be a part of an experience they’ve always enjoyed from afar.
“We’re sitting there with other military guys playing hockey, and it’s like I never left the military,” Cain said. “It’s pretty awesome.”