By Abby Dudley | Photographs by Michael Fornataro
Paralympian Dan McCoy reps Pittsburgh in DICK’S game-changing program for Olympic hopefuls.
Dan McCoy is a sales associate at DICK’S Sporting Goods in The Galleria at Pittsburgh Mills. It’s a well-stocked store, extensive in its apparel, hunting gear, fitness equipment, and games, among plenty of other merchandise that can light stars in adventurers’ eyes. McCoy works in the Team Sports section, located in the back corner at the end of a long, level walkway.
“My area of expertise is really hockey,” he explains before popping a casual wheelie (frankly, the only reminder of the wheelchair beneath him), certainly a bit modest for a Paralympic gold medalist. He recollects an encounter with a customer — one of his first, as he’s only three days into working when I meet him — in which he may have over explained hockey gear to a 5-year-old and his dad.
But I imagine over-achieving is to be expected from a 21-year-old who made the national sled hockey team at 16, has a slew of international medals in addition to his Sochi gold, and attends the University of Pittsburgh to study communications with plans to get his masters in sports medicine. Now add to that his first job — a résumé builder, for sure. “I’ve never really had this kind of experience, working one-on-one with customers. Mostly my experience is just getting on the ice, going to the gym and to school,” McCoy remarks on what, in list form, could be taken as an average young adult life. “But just to come in to work and interact with individuals with different interests and share some of my knowledge about hockey, and even some personal fitness knowledge that I have, is just a really cool opportunity.”
McCoy has this opportunity along with nearly 200 other Olympic and Paralympic athletes as part of DICK’S Team USA Contenders Program, which offers them the support they need. “Our Contenders program was created to provide athletes training to represent our country in the Olympic and Paralympic games an opportunity to earn the income they need to compete at the highest levels,” says Ryan Eckel, vice president of brand marketing for DICK’S Sporting Goods. “We’re proud to offer these athletes a flexible work schedule that still allows them to train and travel. The feedback we’ve received from our Contenders has been extremely positive so far.” Take, for example, this feedback from McCoy: “My schedule is kind of nuts with school and traveling and everything, so they allow a flex work schedule, which is awesome.”
The reach of these athletes is incredible, with participants covering 36 different sports across both winter and summer games. Kayaking, volleyball, judo, diving, speedskating, bobsled, and, of course, sled hockey, are among those represented by Contenders. You might run into one in 76 different DICK’S stores in 28 different states.
McCoy is the only athlete from Pittsburgh in the Contender’s program, as well as on his national team. Though actually, McCoy’s local team, the Pittsburgh Mighty Penguins, was one of the first organized sled hockey teams in the country.
Sled hockey, for the record, is nearly exactly the same as the traditional hockey we’re used to; the only difference is the players’ gear. Instead of skates, sled hockey players sit in sleds with blades along the bottom and thick protection to cover their feet, as it could take many players days to notice a serious injury there, a fact that McCoy notes with a small laugh. Their sticks (they carry two) are much shorter and have metal teeth on the ends opposite of the curved blades. Players use them to move — with incredible agility — by digging the teeth into the ice. (Picture the upper body motions of a cross country skier.)
All of the rules are the ones you’re probably already familiar with. Players can even be penalized, like in stand up hockey, for tripping. “It was literally my first penalty I ever got,” McCoy remembers with some lingering shock. “I was skating next to this kid with the puck, and I pushed the front of his sled, and his feet fell out from under him. Apparently that was tripping — even though he literally fell an inch. How do you trip somebody sitting down?”
First penalty aside, McCoy’s hockey career has been nothing short of spectacular. Choosing his favorite tournament is “a toss-up.” The Sochi 2014 Paralympics Winter games where he won gold, or the 2015 International Paralympic Committee Ice Sled Hockey World Championships in Buffalo where he scored a goal in the gold medal victory over Canada? We’d have a hard time choosing, too.
Just as fluent and effortless as McCoy is on the ice, he seems to fit in here at DICK’S, among the rows of equipment, some of which is already his expertise, pretty well, too. Personable, affable, and certainly knowledgeable, he’ll surely prove himself a valuable member of this new team.
DICK’S Sporting Goods, 329 Pittsburgh Mills Circle, Tarentum. 724.274.0240. dickssportinggoods.com.