“For a person as active as I am, it's a daily battle with obstacles on streets, in buildings and the weather as well.”
Sylwester Flis, both the top player and head coach for Poland’s ice sledge hockey team, told the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) on Wednesday (30 January) he would be leaving the sport for medical reasons.
He resigned his duties as a player and coach in order to have up to six surgeries on his legs starting in February so that he can function in an upright position.
“At this point, it's difficult to tell for how long I will be out,” Flis said. “I'm thinking minimum a year. I also don't know how the final outcome will affect my body.”
Flis added he was originally scheduled to have the surgery near Warsaw last September but postponed it due to November’s IPC Ice Sledge Hockey B Pool World Championships in Novi Sad, Serbia, where Poland finished fourth.
Both a Polish and American citizen, he was the most valuable player and scoring leader at the Salt Lake City 2002 Paralympic Winter Games, when he won gold with the USA. He then returned to Poland to help recruit players for their programme and create a national team there.
“Since coming to my native country, I've started noticing the difference between USA and Poland, and how much this country is inaccessible for people in wheelchairs,” Flis said. “For a person as active as I am, it's a daily battle with obstacles on streets, in buildings and the weather as well.”
“Every day I have to make it up to first floor – about 30 steps – on my butt, pulling the chair along. In the US I did not have to do that at all, not even living in Alaska.
“For that reason, and for my lovely girlfriend, I am (having the surgery).”
Flis has committed the last 15 years of his life to playing and coaching ice sledge hockey, with his top performance with the Polish team being a bronze-medal finish at the 2009 B Pool World Championships.