|Winter Paralympics on the BBC|
|Venue: Pyeongchang, South Korea. Dates: 9-18 March Time in Pyeongchang: GMT +9|
|Coverage: Follow on Radio 5 live and via the BBC Sport website. Television coverage on Channel 4|
There will be blood brothers on the ice when the US take on Italy in Thursday’s Para-ice hockey semi-final at the Winter Paralympics.
Nikko Landeros and Tyler Carron were schoolmates and wrestling team-mates when they both lost their legs after being crushed in between two cars. They’re now Paralympic gold medallists together, and could be once more in Pyeongchang.
They are connected in almost every way – from their defensive partnership on the rink, to the red stuff in their veins.
“We’ve got pints of the same blood in us – who knows whose it is? We’ve been in a room together with your body half-opened up,” Landeros, 28, told BBC Sport.
“Some of the things we’ve seen are pretty crazy.
“I never thought I’d see four legs in the middle of a road and my friend on the side of the road not saying anything.
“We’ve been through some pretty traumatic stuff together that gives us a bond I don’t think too many people in the world have.”
‘You either give up and cross over that line or you fight’
It was in January 2007, when both men were aged 17, that Landeros and Carron’s lives would change beyond recognition.
The pair had left a school dance, with snow on the roads of Berthoud, Colorado, and were driving with friends when they got a flat tyre. While looking for tools in the boot, another car, driven by a fellow pupil, ploughed into the back of them.
“The last thing I remember was asking my mum what shoes I should wear for the dance. I don’t even remember leaving the house,” said Carron, 28, who was unconscious immediately after the collision.
He would later wake up and find out he had lost both of his legs. Landeros, still conscious, knew almost as soon as it happened.
“It felt like you got hit by an 18-wheeler. On impact you’re not able to breathe, your body goes into shock so you don’t really feel losing your legs – it’s crazy how your body works but I didn’t feel the pain,” he said.
“I tried to get up a few times. When you only have bones there and debris, reality sets in pretty quick.
“I felt freezing cold and I was more worried about freezing. I was telling people to get me jackets.
“The girls with us probably had their mind blown. Tyler probably looked dead because he’s unconscious. All you see is flashing lights, the helicopter come down and then the feel of the air as it lands. You either give up and cross over that line or you fight until you understand someone will take care of you.
“Surviving was a huge thing and I think that’s why we’re all so good at playing hockey on the team. We just want to do our best and not let anyone down.”
“I realised life was not going to be the same’
Landeros and Carron, both accomplished sportsmen across wrestling, American football, and ice hockey, had to adapt to the physical and mental challenges of life as double-leg amputees – learning to walk again on prosthetics and spending long periods in wheelchairs.
“I remember waking up in the hospital angry because I didn’t have any legs,” said Carron.
“After a while I was feeling like it was good to be alive.
“It’s nice to have someone to go to physiotherapy with, learning to walk together. It would have been more difficult by myself.”
Landeros added: “People do their fair share of crying and reminiscing. I’ve been through my part in that but it passed pretty quickly – the pity party was mainly at the beginning, the first week or two.
“I realised life was not going to be the same but it’s great how much you can learn in 10 years, you can mature pretty fast.”
Berthoud, with a population of fewer than 7,000, is “the kind of town everyone knows what you’re doing”, in the words of Landeros. News of the then-teenagers’ trauma spread throughout the town and across the state of Colorado.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars was raised by the community and the pair were thrust into the spotlight. As Landeros says: “When two guys come in a room together without legs it’s pretty easy to work out who we are.”
But none of that could bring back the feeling of playing sport, the buzz of a physical hit on the football field or on the wrestling mat. A few months after the accident, they tried out Para-ice hockey.
Initially it wasn’t for them.
“We tried it and didn’t like it because we still had injuries and nerve damage. Two years later we came back after we’d healed and it felt pretty good,” said Carron.
The game looks and feels much like ice hockey, but with players in sleds and using two poles to propel themselves and also hit the puck.
It’s fast, frantic and brutal. Just what they were missing.
Landeros made his US debut in 2009 and went on to win gold medals at the Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 Games. Carron joined the squad in 2010 and was part of the 2014 Paralympic side.
It means the high school sports team-mates, who shared the worst of times, are barely ever apart – they are even defensive partners on the ice – and they’re pulling each other through the tough times.
“If it’s a day I don’t feel like walking and I see Tyler walking, I’m like ‘man I’ve got to put my legs on’,” said Landeros.
“We push each other to achieve greatness – that may never happen but hopefully we can win a few gold medals.”
Victory over Italy on Thursday will set up a final with South Korea or Canada, and then one more gold medal – and another step towards the greatness they seek – will be in sight.