Port Neches native Joshua Yarbrough was part of a championship team when the Las Vegas Golden Knights won the Tier II National Championship at the Toyota-USA Disabled Hockey Festival.
But Yarbrough’s time in sledge hockey has brought him more than the joys of winning.
While deployed to Afghanistan in 2011, Yarbrough, who was a Marine sergeant, lost both of his legs when an IED detonated.
Yarbrough said the recovery process was emotionally draining. While recovering in San Antonio, he was recommended to try sledge hockey.
“I thought contact sports were over for me,” he said. “I played golf for a while. But there is a big difference between hitting a ball and hitting a person. It was therapeutic.
“At the time, I tried and played goalkeeper, but I wasn’t in a place where it concerned me. I just wanted to finish my rehabilitation and leave.
About three years later, Yarbrough was sitting at his son’s football practice when he had an epiphany.
“I had about an hour and a half to kill and I realized I needed a hobby,” he said. “Hockey seemed like fun. I found a team in Houston and got the coordinates online. I was there the following Saturday and every weekend since they had it.
Yarbrough said he got hooked after the first practice.
“I was placed on the left wing,” he said. “That’s where I played my first season. Then I was transferred to the position of defender. Now I can hit people.
Yarbrough’s team is the Houston Hellhounds, but the team hasn’t played for a while after the nonprofit organizer died. Yarbrough was able to get a waiver to play with the Knights for the championship race.
The team provides friendships and the will to stay in shape, Yarbrough said.
“Having the physical outlet is good,” he said. “It makes me want to improve and stay fit because otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it.”
Yarbrough also shares his time on the ice with his 15-year-old son, Sean, who had surgery for a flat foot.
“At his age, they start to drift off and do their own thing,” Yarbrough said. “After my injury, a lot of that relationship was very strained. I have three children now, but at the time, I only had him. He was 4 years old when it happened. I played with him all the time. I had lots of plans as a father of all the things I wanted to do. I wanted to coach baseball and teach him all these things. I can’t show him footwork for football. I can’t show him the footwork to swing a baseball bat. I can’t show him how to throw. It was frustrating and strained our relationship for a long time. I felt like he was getting the short end of the deal.
Yarbrough said having his son on the team gave them something to bond over.
“We go to training and I hit it like everyone else,” he said. “Hopefully that will make him a better player at the end of the day.”
Yarbrough said he encourages anyone going through something similar to find a sporting activity to use as an outlet.
“If there’s a sport you like, they probably have a version of it,” he said.
Those wishing to donate to the Houston Hellhounds can do so by visiting starskaters.org.