Rosen's career takes off

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

Between taking up a new sport, coping with the end of his marriage, and enjoying a sizzling public speaking career, national sledge hockey goalie Paul Rosen's life has been a whirlwind since his team won Paralympic gold last year in Turin.

Rosen, 47, now is considered the world's top goalie in his sport -- a pinnacle which took him a lifetime in hockey, and losing his leg in 1999, to achieve. At an age when most athletes' best years are behind them, Rosen recently was named to the men's sitting volleyball team -- a sport he hadn't played since high school -- in its quest for gold at the Parapan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 12-19.

"All I've ever done was hockey, and now I'm breaking barriers in sport," Rosen said. "It's such an honour to have this opportunity to represent Canada and sitting volleyball with an amazing bunch of guys."

Until this past spring, the previous time Rosen had played volleyball was 1977, when his Thornhill High School team won the provincial championships.

Growing up as a hockey player, Rosen was playing Midget AAA when his skate caught a rut in the ice, breaking his right leg in 14 places. After 24 years of countless surgeries to try to repair his leg, a massive infection in his knee in 1999 required doctors to amputate his leg above the knee, when he was 39.

Rosen took up sledge hockey and became the oldest rookie in the game, earning a spot on the Canadian team for the 2002 Salt Lake City Paralympic Games -- and winning gold four years later in Turin.

These days, Rosen's hockey teammates are giving him a bit of a hard time about his imminent volleyball debut.

"A couple of them called me two sport Rosey," he said with a chuckle. "They don't want me to get hurt or take anything away from the hockey because we've got such a great group going, coming off back-to-back golds, beating Norway in 2006 in Turin and beating Norway again in 2007 in the World Cup in Kelowna.

Hockey always will be No. 1 but this is an opportunity to do something I might never get to do."

And what an opportunity. A couple months ago Rosen took part in a weekend workshop in Ottawa for Soldier On, a program that introduces newly-disabled soldiers to Paralympic sports. Along with showcasing sledge hockey, Rosen played some wheelchair rugby and sitting volleyball -- a sport requiring athletes to keep one "cheek" on the floor at all times. The court is smaller, and the net is lower than for able-bodied volleyball; otherwise the rules are the same.

"After 10 minutes, I'm diving at balls and yelling at the guys to win," Rosen said. "That's the way I play. I do it to win. I still believe you can have fun playing your sport, but if you're playing for your country, you're playing to win."

The timing was right for Rosen as coaches were looking for recruits, for both men's and women's teams, hoping to earn Canada a berth at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games. (Some athletes have come over from the men's disabled standing volleyball team, which is three-time world champions, but that sport was dropped from the Paralympic program in 2004.)

"We noticed Paul, being a goalie for sledge hockey, has a number of skills that translate to volleyball," said Phil Allen, the co-ordinator of Disabled Volleyball for Volleyball Canada. "He has very quick eye hand co-ordination, and also an ability to see how plays develop and make minute adjustments to be in the right position after making an instant assessment of what's going on in the other side of the court."

The winner of the tournament in Rio next month earns an automatic berth to Beijing. Strong teams tend to come from countries with military service and a history of violent conflict, such as Iran and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The U.S., Germany and Brazil are also formidable.

Also exciting for Rosen, who has a booming voice, flair for story telling and gift of the gab, is his flourishing speaking career. It has taken off to the point where he has quit his day job as a "removal guy" at a funeral home and is represented by Theadlibgroup Inc., doing about 120 speeches a year.

Fabulous as all this is, Rosen, who has three kids in their 20s, is also now coping with the end of his marriage, a split initiated by his wife.

"This is something that she really needed to do," Rosen said. "My wife's mother died an hour before our gold-medal game at the world cup in Kelowna in March 2007, so it was a little crazy. Almost immediately my wife asked me for a divorce after 27 years. It has just been so tough on her the last few years."

For now, Rosen is focusing on Rio, and also has a long-term goal to win gold in 2010 in Vancouver, and then retire from competition.

"It's a passion I have," he said. "It has taken a toll on my personal life but I think it's very important to teach people especially disabled kids that anything's possible. You can do whatever in life you want. I'm an example of that."


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