Retired Marine Ralph DeQuebec Found A New Mission With U.S. Sled Hockey Team

by Bob Reinert

Ralph DeQuebec competes in the gold medal match of the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 13, 2022 in Beijing.


Ralph DeQuebec vividly remembers the day when an improvised explosive device went off, killing a fellow Marine and shattering both of his legs in a moment.


DeQuebec was serving as an explosive ordnance technician in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. In the early hours of June 22, 2012, the device he was working on detonated.


“He didn’t get killed by the blast,” DeQuebec said of the other Marine. “He was blown up and thrown into the river. I remember looking up. I remember seeing the reflection of his eyes in my night vision goggles. I (saw) the flash go. He ends up drowning in the river.”


DeQuebec, who had been on his third deployment, was hospitalized in Germany. When he developed pneumonia there, he slipped into a coma for more than a month. When he awoke, he realized that he had lost both legs above the knee.


“I was just grateful (to be alive),” DeQuebec said. “But then after that part comes the part of like, what am I going to do with my life? I got to start all over.”


As another Veterans Day approached, DeQuebec freely shared his experiences and what goes through his mind when Nov. 11 rolls around.


“Just the opportunity to think about all my friends,” he said. “I’ve already experienced combat. I’ve had these large, large experiences in my life already.”


DeQuebec doesn’t have to venture far to speak with other veterans. He’s one of several on the U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team. He has won a pair of Paralympic gold medals and two world championships as a member of Team USA.


“It’s always the goal, right?” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing, just to be able to look back and see it all in its entirety.”


He couldn’t have foreseen all this success when he was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. During his recovery there, he tried several Para sports.


“I just remember trying so many things and not loving any of it,” he said. “I felt like I needed some kind of contact.”


Another military member in recovery with him suggested sled hockey.


“I’m from LA,” DeQuebec told him. “We don’t play hockey.”


He resisted at first, but then his wife talked him into trying it.


“I went. It was kind of foreign,” said DeQuebec, who nevertheless liked its physical nature. “I equated it to like sharks in the tank. And I was the new fish just getting thrown into the tank. But I had a lot of fun.”

The 2022 U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team poses with their gold medals during the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on March 13, 2022 in Beijing.


Sled hockey wound up changing DeQuebec’s life. The former Marine gunnery sergeant made his national team debut in 2017 and has skated with the team ever since.


“We have a motto on the team that ‘iron sharpens iron,’ and that’s the whole mentality,” the 39-year-old defenseman said. “I think our locker room has done a good job of not letting victory defeat us, meaning we didn’t get complacent.”


That locker room reminds DeQuebec of his other time in a U.S. uniform.


“I’ve had similar feelings in a … group of Marines going to war,” he remarked. “We have a mission. Just the stakes are a little bit different.


“We were playing with matters of life and death. I remember taking my job very seriously then. You’re an EOD tech. And it’s game time every time. One mistake can end your life.”


DeQuebec had joined the military in the wake of 9/11. He was a 19-year-old freshman at El Camino College in Torrance, California, at the time.


“I remember just being dumbfounded,” DeQuebec recalled of the World Trade Center being hit. “Is there something else that I should be doing? I ran into a Marine recruiter.


“I deployed three times. I kind of built this life of mine that I wanted that I had dreamed of. Let me go defend the country at whatever cost it takes.”


It ultimately cost him parts of both legs. But DeQuebec found another way to represent his country. He won’t stop now.


“It’s definitely (my time) to give back to the community and to the guys and to the next guys coming up,” he said. “As a veteran, I was afforded a lot of opportunities post-injury. I want to be able to bridge that gap and allow kids to have the same opportunities that veterans have. Let’s create a blueprint. Let’s figure out how to get this done.


“I have plans to help the sled hockey community in every way, shape and form that I can. I think a lot of that is going to come through creating a foundation to help kids accomplish their dreams in the sport of sled hockey.”

Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.