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      Michigan Tech staffer in Sochi for Paralympic Games

      Courtesy: MTU

      Two weeks after closing ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Russia, a Michigan Tech Athletic Department staff member is in Sochi going for gold. Joel Isaacson is with Team USAâ??s Sled Hockey squad competing at the Paralympics, an international competition for the physically disabled held immediately following the Winter Olympics every four years.Isaacson, who has volunteered with the U.S. National Sled Team since 2011, serves as its equipment manager. He repairs, maintains and customizes sleds and other gear in addition to helping with travel logistics.â??Itâ??s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,â?? he said of the chance to represent the U.S. at an Olympics.â??Iâ??m humbled and honored to be able to help these athletes chase their dreams of a gold medal.â??The team consists of 17 men ages 15 to 35. Some are military veterans who are amputees because of injuries suffered in active duty. Some experienced other accidents to their legs or spine. Others have congenital conditions that qualify them for the Paralympics.Together, they enter the tournament as medal contenders, perhaps even the favorites for gold. The Americans have won two of the last three Paralympic golds including the most recentâ??2010 in Vancouver.â??These guys are the best at what they do,â?? said Isaacson. â??Itâ??s amazing to be around them and see the adversity they overcome on a daily basis. Itâ??s also infectious to see their passion for the sport.â??Sled hockey, also called sledge hockey, is played with regular ice hockey rules with some exceptions. Players sit on sleds with medal blades and propel themselves with modified hockey sticks. The handle end of each stick has spikes to grip the ice. Modifications are made to the benches to allow the teams to change lines, but otherwise itâ??s played like hockey with skill, speed and checking.While it may seem strange that Isaacson, who currently holds the title of associate athletic director for external relations at Michigan Tech, would be working as a hockey equipment manager, thatâ??s exactly how he got his start at Tech.The 2001 Michigan Tech graduate worked as a student manager for the Huskies NCAA Division I Hockey program before being hired on full time as the equipment manager for the department. He was later promoted to assistant athletic director for NCAA compliance and then to his current position.â??Iâ??m extremely thankful to (athletic director) Suzanne Sanregret and Michigan Tech for allowing me the flexibility to pursue this opportunity,â?? he said.Isaacson got his start with the sled team in 2011 when Michigan Tech athletic trainer Brian Brewster, who was already working with the team, recruited him to fill in at the Four Nationâ??s Tournament in Nagano, Japan.A year later, he was installed as a permanent member of the staff as they competed at the World Championships in Norway.Isaacsonâ??s experiences, including another World Championship in Seoul, South Korea, and several more training camps and tournaments in North America, have all led up to this opportunity in Russia.â??Initially, there were question marks about the Olympics and Paralympics being in Russia, but thereâ??s been a lot of positive feedback from other members of USA Hockey on their experience coming back from Sochi,â?? said Isaacson.Dave Fischer is one of five former Michigan Tech Huskies who are on staff full-time at USA Hockey. Once Techâ??s Director of Athletic Communications from 1987-2004, Fischer is the senior director of communications for the Colorado Springs-based organization. He called Sochi the best of the three Winter Games he has experienced (2006 in Tourino, Italy, and 2010 in Vancouver, Canada, being the others).â??The Olympics is always a remarkable experience, but Iâ??d say this was the best. Everything was well organized, the people were very welcoming, the venues were awesome and itâ??s just a gorgeous place.â??Isaacson and Team USA begin participation in the 2014 Paralympic Sled Hockey Tournament March 8. Medals will be awarded following the final games March 15.Many of the games will have live television coverage from NBC Sports Network.PBS aired a documentary on the teamâ??s preparation for the Paralympics. It can be found at more updates on Team USA, visit