His is an extraordinary tale of adversity and triumph.
Ten years ago, Tony Fitzgerald was much like the neighbors he grew up with in Floral Park.
His brother, Dan Fitzgerald, had just moved out of town and begun a commercial roofing business outside of Baltimore, Maryland. Shortly, thereafter, Tony joined him there as a partner, focusing on the financial aspects of the company.
Then came the automobile accident, a tragedy that changed the Fitzgerald family forever and left Tony a paraplegic for life.
"I had just started the job four days earlier," he recalled in an interview with the Floral Park Dispatch. "We were on our way home to do the week's payroll, at about three in the afternoon, when a driver coming in the other direction jumped the center divider and hit us head-on."
Dan Fitzgerald was killed instantly in the crash. His brother, however, though gravely injured, was still conscious as flames began to consume both vehicles.
"I can still remember the heat of that fire," he said. "And I can remember arriving at Prince George's Hospital and telling the doctor - though I didn't know how dramatic the statement was at the time - do whatever you can to keep me alive.
"I didn't realize the bargain I had just made," Fitzgerald continued. "The doctor did just what I asked him, but when I came out of it, I was paralyzed from the waist down."
Far from being the beginning of a long twilight, however, Fitzgerald, 36, turned misfortune on its head. "Right from the start my feeling was, obviously, I was meant to survive this thing and make the best of it," he said.
Always somewhat athletic in his youth - he had played ice hockey in a local league - Fitzgerald began to compete in wheelchair basketball tournaments with the Nassau County Kings.
Then, in 1994, came an Epiphany.
"Nobody around here had ever heard [of sled hockey]," he recently told Diane Ketcham of The New York Times. "Everybody knows about wheelchair basketball, but few have ever heard of this sport."
Fitzgerald himself had only discovered it through reading an article in a wheelchair magazine.
"I saw a picture of a sled, and I decided to get one," he recalled to the Ketcham.
"At first, no rink would let me on the ice during the public sessions. They were afraid people would fall over me. Then they saw me skate and realized I could move better than a lot of the people out there."
The sport itself is incredibly challenging. In order to move about the ice, Fitzgerald must propel himself across the ice with a stick in each hand. One end of the stick has a pick to grip the ice. The other end has a blade to hit the puck with.
"You have to be physically strong," he said. "My strength in the sport is that I played hockey prior to my accident. On the other hand, at 200 pounds, I carry much more weight than a lot of the competitors in this sport, who are double amputees. So I'm slower than most.
"Still, I do alright, because it's a very physical sport and of course body checking is a big part of the game."
Without a team to practice with, Fitzgerald began to go out and practice by himself. In order to begin competing, he had to become a member of the Disabled Sports Organization, and qualify to participate through a trials process sanctioned by the DSO.
In 1996, two years after taking up the sport, he made the national team. Setting his sights on the US. Paralympics sled hockey team, he then sought and qualified for the approval of the United States Olympic Committee.
Just six weeks ago, he competed as one of 15 members of the USA sled hockey team at the 1998 Winter Paralympics held in Nagano, Japan.
Approximately 30 countries and 1,500 delegates participated in this year's games, the third to be held in the same venues as the Olympic winter games. Other recent Paralympics were held in Albertville, after the 1992 Olympics, and in Lillehammer, after the 1994 Olympics.
Over the course of 10 days, physically challenged athletes participated in 34 separate events revolving around five different sports. These included alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, ice sled speed racing and ice sled hockey.
Fitzgerald's events were held in Nagano City. The other Japanese communities hosting various competitions were Yamanouchi Town, Hakuba Village and Nozawa Onsen Village.
"Unfortunately, we didn't make the medal rounds, but the games were still tremendously satisfying because we had become so much more competitive. In 1997, we had competed in the World Cup and lost by pretty significant margins," Fitzgerald said.
"This year, facing many of the same teams and players, we faired much better, playing well against the really tough teams.
"Our problem this year was that while we played hard when we had to, we choked against teams we should have beaten, like the Japanese team. Still, we came away from the experience feeling very good about our effort."
Coming off the games, which were held two weeks after the most recent Winter Olympics, Fitzgerald and his teammates were among the Olympians feted by President Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C.
"It was great, actually. We hung out with the Women's Olympic Hockey team, and I even got my picture taken between Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan," he said. "Then, of course, I got to meet the president of the United States and that was... well, you know... it's the president.
"And then it culminated in a huge dinner at the Hilton, sponsored by USA Today. I really enjoyed that and enjoyed hanging out with our fellow olympians."
Once again a Floral Park resident, and a marketing and job-counseling specialist at the National Center for Disability Services in Albertson, Fitzgerald has returned to practicing at every opportunity, including his lunch hour.
"Though I've contemplated retiring to pursue other goals, I still intend to train to stay in shape," he said.
"You know, obviously, my work had to take a back seat to my athletic aspirations, and now I'm putting that more in the forefront. That's going to be my main focus.
"At the same time, I may still compete in the World Cup in 1999. I don't know about the Paralympics in 2002, that's still a long way off. But my teammates want me there, so I'll guess I'll just have to wait and see how I feel."
Pausing to reflect, Fitzgerald added, "You know, it's hard to say that's there's a silver lining after losing a loved one in an accident and having gone through what I've gone through, but I have to tell you, when you are representing your country in a competition and they play your national anthem, that's just a great feeling."