As a child, Steve Cash would rollerblade on the back porch of his Missouri home with his mother. Cash was an avid hockey fan as a youngster and admired the St. Louis Blues players he watched and Olympians like Mike Modano, Brett Hull, and Jim Craig, who Cash especially idolized. In his green and purple Ninja Turtle rollerblades, Cash was able to lose himself in his thoughts.
"I can remember back, just thinking about feeling the wind in your hair," Cash said. "Back then, I didn't see myself as disabled. I just had fun with everything that I did."
At three years old, cancer in his right knee forced doctors to amputate his foot. From there, after Cash was fitted for a prosthetic, things like those skating sessions on his back porch became a way to escape mentally from a difficult situation for a child.
"Your imagination runs wild when you're a kid," Cash said. "My way of fun was to give everything 100 percent, so I actually always envisioned myself playing hockey.
"It wasn't until I was probably eight or nine when I actually got into competitive organized hockey, but even before that, growing up watching the Olympics, and what really intrigued me was when the United States got out there."
Little did Cash know that he himself would later become one of the men he admired.
Cash is a two-time gold medal-winner and soon to be four-time Paralympian with USA Hockey. As the goaltender, his team's success — fairly or unfairly — can often be pinned on Cash. His hockey roots began in that backyard in Missouri with three older brothers, some newspaper, and pillows.
"That was the extent of the padding I had," Cash said of the newspapers and pillows used for padding while his three brothers Donny, James, and Mike would fire pucks. "It was fun for them to really put me in there and see what I was made of — trial by fire. It made me tougher."
Cash grew up playing inline hockey, often on the same team as Mike, one year his senior. It wasn't until Cash was about 14 when a coach at an inline tournament learned of his prosthetic and suggested he give sled hockey a try.
"But I don’t think I heard the word 'sled' at first. I was like, 'Well, hockey's hockey,' you know?" Cash said. "I wasn't too sure what it entailed, but I came out that week and it was kind of a nostalgic feeling.
“I got in the net, and even though I wasn't very good, I kept with it, and it was something I always looked forward to, those Sunday practices."
But something must have clicked, because his coaches spoke of his play in high regard.
"I was in a sled in September 2004 and in January of the next year, just a few months later, the national team coach at the time, Keith Blase, was inviting me to tryouts," Cash said. "I don't think I envisioned something like that happening, especially as quickly as it did."
At tryouts, Cash again exceeded his own expectations, being named to the U.S. National Sled Team following that camp, and going to his first Paralympics in 2006 in Torino, helping the U.S. win a bronze medal.
"Watching the Olympics growing up, I had the motivation instilled in me quite early," Cash said. "I can also attribute a lot of that to my parents as well because they put the four of us through hockey and through sports and I don’t think they ever batted an eye or complained.
"They really gave me a lot of that determination and showed me that if you really face adversity head-on, you're going to do great things in life."
Cash is now gearing up for his fourth Paralympics tournament, hoping to win his third straight gold medal and add another accolade to his medal case.