Four-Time Gold Medalist Josh Pauls Provides Steady Leadership
by Stuart Lieberman
Josh Pauls (C) celelbrates with his teammates Jen Lee, Jack Wallace aand Noah Grove after defeating Team Canada in the gold-medal match at the Paralympic winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 13, 2022 in Beijing.
BEIJING — At just 29 years of age, U.S. captain Josh Pauls became the first sled hockey player to win four career Paralympic gold medals Sunday with Team USA’s 5-0 win against Canada at the National Indoor Stadium.
The defenseman’s career has spanned 14 seasons and four Paralympic Winter Games, with gold-medal celebrations at center ice after all of them.
Pauls finished the tournament at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 with nine points — tied with teammate Jack Wallace for most by a defenseman — and in the team’s second preliminary-round game against South Korea, took over the top spot for most Paralympic games played by an American. Pauls has hit the ice in 18 games, exceeding Joe Howard’s previous record of 16.
“The saying is ‘It’s lonely at the top,’ so I’m glad I’ve got my brothers with me,” Pauls said. “It’s pretty incredible, especially the way this team has battled and grown over the past four years. It’s such a great experience to have been around these guys most of their careers, and it’s hard to put into words.”
Growing up in New Jersey, Pauls was born without tibia bones and had both of legs amputated at 10 months old. He had hopes of becoming the first NHL goaltender with no legs. After a few years and some convincing from his parents, he joined the local New York Rangers sled hockey club in 2002. He attended Lindenwood University in St. Louis, a city where he has played for many years with the Disabled Athletes Sports Association’s Blues.
Level-headed and well-respected, he has grown leaps and bounds since making his Paralympic debut at the Paralympic Winter Games Vancouver 2010, where he was the youngest member of the U.S. team that won gold at 17. He’s now a four-time Paralympic and five-time world champion, while also working in finance as an account executive.
Josh Pauls competes during the sled hockey semifinals against Team China at the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 11, 2022 in Beijing.
Off the ice, he has become a selfless leader, always looking at the big picture in life, keeping it light in the locker room and inviting his teammates to join him for media interviews to share the spotlight.
“We care so much about each other not just on a hockey level, but on a personal level,” Pauls said. “It’s about loving the guy next to you. I know, for example, that Declan (Farmer) has my best interest and I have his. We’ve never had a closer team, to be frank, in any of the Paralympics I’ve been to. Immediately in our medal ceremony, our coaches and captains said we’re not putting these medals on ourselves, we’re putting these on the guys next to us.”
Farmer, the 24-year-old alternate captain, mirrored those words and praised Pauls for his leadership over the last Paralympic cycle.
“Josh is a great communicator,” Farmer said. “He has been our captain since the PyeongChang season, and he just keeps becoming a better leader each year. He always says the right things, knows when to say them and leads by example, too. He is able to delegate to other guys and really is just the perfect leader.”
In recent years, the quick and agile Pauls has proven to be one of the most adaptable athletes on the planet, helping the U.S. program navigate the unknowns during the COVID-19 pandemic and keep everyone upbeat. He’s been a model of consistency for the team’s six rookies, and cares more about ushering in the next generation as he does winning medals.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘Great athletes don’t rise to the occasion, they fall to the level of their training,’” Pauls said.
“I think we’ve done a great job of that overall as a team and individually. It’s not always easy living so far apart. Even being around when COVID hit and having to train more sporadically and individually, our guys have done such a great job committing to it. I think that’s what it means to be a part of this hockey team. We have 17 fully committed guys, and the USOPC and USA Hockey gives us those resources to be fully committed."
Stuart Lieberman has covered Paralympic sports for more than 10 years, including for the International Paralympic Committee at the London 2012, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.