By Charlie Pinkerton
The opportunity to win his second Paralympic Games medal in Pyeongchang carries additional gravitas this time around for ice sledge hockey 2014 bronze medallist Ben Delaney, as the athlete preps for a new challenge outside of the rink.
Delaney’s focus has long been on para ice hockey (the new official name for the sport at the Paralympics, though it’s often referred to as sledge hockey) and a commitment to Team Canada, which he’s played as part of every year since the 2014 Games. The 21-year-old says after this season he’ll be turning his attention to climbing the highest mountain in every continent, a mountaineering challenge also known as the Seven Summits.
Delaney plans to scale two of the Seven Summits – Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Elbrus in Russia – this summer.
“Hopefully in about three years’ time I’ll have shaped up enough experience to be ready for the seventh summit, which would be Mount Everest,” he added.
Delaney said climbing has been one of his passions his entire life and that growing up he rock climbed as a hobby in the Gatineau Hills.
“(Climbing) is a very different challenge than sledge hockey. Sledge hockey is all upper body,” he said.
Delaney had his leg amputated when he was 12 due to bone cancer. He carried his love for hockey to the sledge version of the sport.
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“In mountaineering you have to train to go all day versus sledge hockey, you know you play for a shift and then you get a good little break – it’s more like short, explosive intervals, whereas mountaineering is a long-term mental and physical game.”
But Delaney assures for the moment that his attention is set on the Paralympic Games. Like many of his teammates, he moved to the Greater Toronto Area this winter to train with Team Canada ahead of Pyeongchang.
“I’m mainly focusing on (the Paralympics) because its quickly approaching and I want nothing more right now than to get that gold medal,” he said.
The soon to be two-time Paralympian sees himself in a much different role than at the 2014 Games, when he was Canada’s youngest player and was still a high school student at St. Pius X Catholic High School.
“I was only 17 years old in Sochi. I was just a kid,” Delaney said. “I was just getting used to things in our system. I’m pretty settled in now, so I’m just critiquing the finer things.”
This season is his fifth playing for Team Canada.
“In Sochi I was definitely the rookie and the youngin’, whereas this year there are a lot of guys who will just be attending the Paralympics for their first time, so I definitely have a lot more experience leading into these Games and I definitely play more of a veteran role,” Delaney added.
With Team Canada in the last year, Delaney has won a gold medal at the World Para Ice Hockey Championships in Gangneung, South Korea, and a silver medal at the World Sledge Hockey Challenge in Charlottetown, P.E.I.
He said winning a gold medal at the Paralympics would be “accomplishing what I wanted to do since I was a kid.”
His ascent of the seven summits starts this summer, but Delaney says he’s committed to playing for Canada’s national para ice hockey team next season, before taking a leave from the sport to focus on climbing. If all goes as planned and Delaney is able to conquer Everest before he reaches age 25, he will be the youngest Canadian ever to do so. A gold medal for Delaney at the Paralympics would no-doubt enable him to ease into life’s next challenge while, at least for the meantime, he leaves his goals in sledge hockey on ice.