An amputee who was involved in a freak car accident steps into a new challenge

An amputee who was involved in a freak car accident steps into a new challenge

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – He’s as humble as they come, but his story is nothing short of miraculous.

It has update.

READ MORE: ‘Miracle’: Sand Lake man finds silver lining after violent hiking accident

FOX 17 first brought you Francis Sylvester about a year ago when he was rehabilitating at Mary Free Bed after losing his leg and falling off a 200-foot cliff while he was a cadet at the Air Force Academy.

Francis Sylvester

His life was changed forever, but his love of sports didn’t go anywhere.

Now, he’s taking his talents to the ice.

An amputee who was involved in a freak car accident steps into a new challenge


It feels a bit strange for Sylvester.

“It’s weird not being above average, or, you know, at the top of my game,” he said. “Trying to start at the bottom — it’s a new experience, but it’s coming.”

Sylvester had never played organized hockey before his injury, and he certainly never thought this was how he would start his career.

“How were you at pond hockey?” Fox 17 asked.

“Better than I am at this,” he said.

Sylvester is a defenseman for the Grand Rapids Sled Wings, an adaptive hockey program for athletes with physical disabilities.

GR Sleigh Wings

Fox 17

The show began in the early 2000s, but Sylvester is only in its second season.

“Those first few practices were tough. I was falling all over the place and looking like an idiot, but it’s coming slowly,” he said.

This comment came as no surprise to Molly McKinney, sports coordinator for the Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports program.

She’s been with Sled Wings for two years as well.

“(Francis) will be very humble about his skill set,” she said. “Don’t let him be too humble. He’s actually much better than many things.”

For a man who was training to fly an F-22 in the Air Force and lost his right leg in a freak walking accident that should have taken his life, this is just another hurdle.

Francis Sylvester, an amputee

Francis Sylvester

You don’t have to go through a traumatic experience to connect, Sylvester said.

“Whether my challenge is greater than the next person’s challenge, or comparable to some hockey team, we all face our own challenges,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges is not even trying to match the skills of the other 15 players on the roster, he said. Rather, it tries to keep up with hockey slang.

“Every practice, coach will say something and, you know, I have to ask one of my teammates. I have no idea what that means and they kind of fill me in on what it is,” he said.

And while Sylvester works to get better every time he takes the ice, McKinney said his true impact won’t show in any score at the box office.

“I really think he’s an inspiration,” she said. “I actually said that to him last week. I think he is a great role model not only for other adult players, but for all young athletes as well.

The Sled Wings have three teams – Sylvester plays for the seniors, but there is also a junior varsity team and a junior varsity team.

The season starts in late September and they play once a month, including a tournament that runs from Friday to Sunday this weekend.

The Sled Wings’ first game will be at 8:30 PM at Patterson Ice Arena in Grand Rapids.

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(Tags for translation) Adaptive Hockey Fox 17

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