GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Troy Benson could hardly believe his ears when heard the news - even if he is hearing impaired.
The 23-year-old Glenwood Springs resident, a transplant from Detroit, had grown up with a passion for playing hockey. So when he found out that that he'd be playing for the United States in the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships, he almost couldn't contain himself.
"I was blown away," Benson said. "It felt like Christmas when there's a whole bunch of presents under the tree. I was just speechless. I didn't know what to say."
Benson will likely have a lot to say after the tournament, which will run from March 30 to April 6 in Vantaa, Finland. He'll play under the Team USA flag of the American Hearing impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA), which granted Benson a spot on the team after his tryout in Chicago earlier this year. Team USA will open the tournament against Canada.
It's an opportunity Benson didn't dream he'd ever have.
"I didn't think something like this could happen," Benson said. "It's great to know that all of the hard work that I've put in could pay off like this. I don't know if people realize how much hard work goes in to making something like this happen."
Hockey, and playing lots of it, is part of the reason he moved from his parents' place in North Carolina to Glenwood. His brother, Trace, owns a hockey shop in town, and he gets all the ice time he wants working at the Glenwood Community Center Ice Rink full time.
He's a forward, but an aggressive one who isn't afraid to check someone into the boards or back down from a fight. But he also has to be mindful of his disability, one that will progressively get worse with no chance of improvement.
That disability, however, isn't one that Benson was born with.
A sickness right after birth placed Benson in an intensive care unit. Doctors have told Benson's family that the antibiotics that were used to keep him alive as an infant may have been a major contributing factor to his hearing loss, which Benson said will become progressively worse.
He does wear a hearing aid and can read lips very well, but he can only hear deep voices without it and can't hear high-pitched noises even with it in. Talking on the phone and holding a conversation in a crowded room can be difficult tasks some take for granted. The real difficulty, however, comes on the ice rink.
Benson can't wear a hearing aid while he's playing hockey and, between that and wearing a helmet, deciphering sounds on the ice can be close to impossible. So Benson relies primarily on his sense of vision, using quick eye movements to evaluate his spot on the ice while using that to determine which move to make next.
That kind of awareness, in part, is what helped Benson land a spot on Team USA's roster. And regardless of the outcome, he already knows it's an experience that plenty of people would love to hear about.
"I'd love to win gold," Benson said. "But between me and the team, we'd just like to show the world that being deaf is not a disability. We can do anything that anyone else can do, and we'd like to show people that anything's possible."