Christy Gardner

christy-gardner1Q. You joined the Army after finishing up college. Are you from a military family?
Sort of. My grandfather and uncles were marines and cousins were in the Navy.

Q. Why did you enlist?
Honestly, it’s a great career.

Q. How were you injured?
I can’t share specifics, but it was in the line of duty, in a country that is not the U.S. I had skull, facial and abdominal injuries and lost 2 fingers. I’m an L2 spinal cord injury, which isn’t too bad, but I can’t feel from the shin down. I was in and out of the hospital fairly quickly but had 3 years of Physical therapy as well as speech therapy.

Q. You recently made the decision to have surgery to remove your lower legs, which sounds pretty scary. How did you make the decision?
I saw a lot of the guys at Walter Reed with prosthetics and saw what they could do. I had constant pain and it was really difficult to walk, even with the braces. After 4 years of talking about it on and off I decided to go for it.

Unfortunately, my insurance wouldn’t pay for it, and some of the doctors thought I was crazy, so I did a “GoFundMe” campaign to raise the dollars. So far I’ve only had one removed, mid-shin. I am so excited to get my leg this Monday. I was able to test out a prosthetic since the surgery and when I did I was able to walk better than I could when I had the leg. I’m waiting until after hockey season to have the next surgery.

Q. What has been your biggest struggle since your injury?
I think just the label. The doctors described me as completely disabled and I didn’t like that. In the military they have physical tests and criteria, but there is one level for men and another for women. I had always pushed myself to be the best and made sure I always met the men’s criteria as well, even if it was at the bottom.

Q. You have obviously overcome a lot, what drove you?
I had an athletic scholarship in college, so I’ve always worked hard, yet all the VA programs for women were very non-physical. My friend Neil, who is also a vet, was the biggest thorn in my side. He’d drag me out to a VA event and I’d meet these guys whose injuries I thought were more catastrophic than mine, in worse shape than I was in, and they were out there doing more. Made me think, “Hey, I can do this.”

Q. So why hockey?
The VA does a New England sports clinic each year. It’s a week long camp in adaptive sports with skiing and snowboarding during the day and activities like kayaking, basketball and sled hockey at night. I tried the sled hockey and I was horrible. I couldn’t stay up, kept falling over … but I liked it.

Q. Not only did you like it, but you’ve really excelled. The Women’s Team won gold in Toronto at the IPC World Sled Hockey Championship? What was that like?
It was pretty unreal. Some of the guys from the Canadian men’s team were there cheering for their women. It was so loud and electric out there. To beat Canada in Canada. To see all the faces in the stands, it was incredible.

Q. What drives you to keep working and training? The schedule must be grueling at the level you play?
I think it’s just the chance to represent my country and enhance the image of the U.S. I lost the ability to serve my country with a rifle; I can now do it with a hockey stick. I want to make people proud.

Q. Any thing you do prior to a game to get ready?
Before I tell you, I want you to know that I normally eat VERY healthy. Prior to the game we’d go out for a big dinner and I always felt so full that it would slow me down. Now my pre-game meal is Mountain Dew and Jelly Beans!

I also pet my service dog Moxie. She keeps me calm and relaxed.

christy-gardner2Q. Tell me about her.
Her name is Moxie; she’s a gold retriever and is about 5 years old.  She is what they call and seizure alert and response dog. She is my legs. The other day I got out to the car only to realize I’d left the keys on the counter. Moxie went and got them for me.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not on the ice?
I work with a Labrador breeder and I get to help with the dogs, deliver puppies, play with them, and feed them. We’ve had two go off to service dog school.

I also started the New England warriors, sled hockey team. Mostly men, a few women.

Q. How did that come about?
There are only a few adaptive programs offered through the VA, all fairly low key, so I was looking for more for the veterans. I went to our rink to see if they would donate some skate time so the veterans could get out there. They offered me free time on our own. When we first got out on the ice I was the only one in a sled and they asked me about it. Ends up that in a storage closet at the rink there were some sleds that were just sitting there and they said we could have them.

I also wanted to share that my rink is hosted the USA women’s team tryouts and they gave us the ice for free for 3 days and paid half the hotel bill. Since we have no real sponsors, what they’ve done, really helps a ton.

Q. Tell me a few things that most people don’t know about you.
When I was stationed in Texas there was a billboard for skydiving that said, “Jump Now.” I climbed up and got a picture of me standing in front of the sign.

My clothes closet is organized by color.

I always have a plan A, B and C, followed by a back up plan.

Q. What is your favorite movie?|
Miracle on Ice

Q. Who inspires you?
My sister. She pushed me to do stuff even when I was tired and didn’t want to.

Q. Favorite NHL team?
Kind of a toss up. I love the Bruins because I’m a New Englander; I work with their foundation …. but the Capitals and the Black Hawks sponsor the Walter Reed team I play on.

Q. Any advice for a young person who is coming back from a traumatic injury?
As cliché as it sounds, “Never give up.” Don’t take no for an answer. A lot of folks are too negative.  People can be clueless and judge based on their own opinion, so you have to do what’s right for you.

Q. You mentioned you’ve also just recently graduated with another degree?
My first degree is in photography, but after the service I went back and majored in recreational therapy. I’ll be a certified recreation therapist and will be able to work with and teach adaptive sports.