By all accounts, I’m a pretty awesome guy. A charming, handsome fellow whose polymath skills are matched only by my modesty.
On occasion, however, there comes along another person whose accomplishments humble even Stephen the Great.
Those who watched the ESPY Awards on ESPN last week obviously saw all the big-name hotshots that won the awards…Drew Brees, Landon Donovan, some guy named Albert Pujols. Unfortunately, there was another winner from St. Louis who didn’t get the spotlight befitting his accomplishments.
Steven Cash, 21, hails from Overland. A graduate of Ritenour in 2007 and the youngest of four brothers, he recently won a gold in Vancouver.
Got your attention? Curious how you didn’t hear about him with all the coverage of the Olympics on NBC? Wondering how to win his hand in marriage?
Well, chances are you never saw him on television, because he wasn’t in the Olympics. Steven lost part of his right leg at the age of four due to cancer. While most of us would sit around and throw a pity party, Steven decided instead that the loss of a limb wouldn’t slow him down. After all, God gave him three spare ones. So what’d he do? He decided to play hockey. And his decision was vindicated this winter as he tended goal for the United States Sled Hockey team that captured the gold in the Paralympic games.
For the uninitiated, sled hockey is exactly what it sounds like. The players strap their legs into a sled and propel themselves with their arms, using two shortened sticks rather than the single stick ice hockey players use. These athletes have the otherworldly upper-body strength that only hosses like me possess.
They didn’t just win. They dominated. Steven was the starting goaltender for a team that didn’t allow a goal in the entire damn tournament, outscoring the opposition 19-0. And for his efforts, Steven earned the ESPY (Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly) award for Best Male Athlete with a Disability.
Steven’s been skating ever since he was five and playing inline hockey since he was ten, but he didn’t start sled hockey until he was 14. “I was at a local inline hockey tournament when the local sled hockey coach, Mike Dowling, approached me asking me if I wanted to try out sled hockey. I came out to the Wentzville Ice Arena that weekend and fell in love with it,” he says. After a tournament in Detroit, the national coach approached him and offered him a tryout. By June 2005, he was the backup for the U.S. national team, in time to make the trip to Torino for the 2006 Paralympic games, where the team earned a bronze medal.
Although this in itself was a great feat, Steven felt that third wasn’t good enough. Eschewing standard training methods, he lived in the woods for three years, fending for himself by wrestling bears.
Ok, I may have made that part up. But Steven improved enough to earn the starting spot on the U.S. team. And his, as well as his teammates’, efforts paid off this past winter, culminating in a 2-0 gold medal victory over Japan. Steven is quick to deflect credit to his teammates. As he explains, “my defense only let in a handful of shots a game and our forwards gave 110% on their back checking. I couldn’t be more happy with my teammates’ preparation…Our team was closer than ever in Vancouver, and I had never seen my teammates play the way they did on the ice. I give most of the credit to them for doing everything in their power and leaving it all out on the ice to make sure we came out of the tournament with a Paralympic Gold Medal.” Although his performance didn’t garner nearly the attention as Ryan Miller (the goaltender who nearly willed the American ice hockey team to the gold, settling for silver), he counts Miller as a person he admires. Hoping to get the chance to meet him, he wryly adds, “If/when I do get the chance to talk to him, I’ll be sure to compare medals.”
Yet for all his success, he’s still a relative unknown. ESPN didn’t even afford him a chance to accept his award on television. As a result, few people knew he won. “I barely even knew myself,” he admits. “During a commercial, in the Nokia Theater, they flashed my name and picture on the big screen and in the blink of an eye, it was gone.” Still, he earned his award and got the chance to be at the presentation, a pretty decent day, I’d say. My big days consist of deciding which hand to scratch with.
Steven is remarkably down to earth about his accomplishments. He’s a junior currently at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, majoring in business administration. Although he could have probably chosen a school with a more hockey-centric attitude, Steven chose UMSL due to its location and the fact that it afforded him the chance to play for the hockey team. He even got the chance to play with his brothers for a season.
Still, despite his modest approach, he’s quite proud of his accomplishment in Vancouver. He’s gotten the chance to rub elbows with a few celebrities, listing his encounters with Shaun White and Barack Obama as his favorites thus far.
It seems we live in a cynical world, and often with good reason. The news is often filled with negative stories of self-aggrandizing people. Finding an individual such as Steven, who is getting his just due, can be a pleasant surprise. As for the future, Steven said he plans to finish school and play sled hockey as long as he can, “until they kick me off the team!”
Given his outlook, that won’t be any time soon. I wouldn’t bet against him for the next couple decades.
Special thanks to Steven Cash for his time and cooperation.