Journeyman plumber honored by union brothers and sisters for his accomplishment in PyeongChang
By SHERI GASSAWAY
Billy Hanning, a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, was thrilled when his Team USA Paralympic Sled Hockey Team won gold at the 2018 Winter Paralympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Hanning was equally ecstatic when his union brothers and sisters paid tribute to him for the accomplishment at last month’s union meeting. Members put together a slideshow featuring photos of Hanning and the team and played the Olympic and National anthems.
“I was so awestruck I couldn’t speak,” Hanning said. “They played a video, and they really did their homework because they knew all about my work with the team. I wasn’t expecting it. It was a very special moment.”
PROUD UNION FAMILY
John O’Mara, Local 562 business manager and secretary-treasurer, said the event was special for the entire Local 562 membership. After the presentation, members met and shook hands with Hanning, congratulating him on the win.
“We are so proud of Billy for not giving up.” O’Mara said. “He was dealt a tough challenge and he responded by making his life, his family’s life and the lives of the members of his USA Sled Hockey Team better. That is why Local 562 is proud to have a member like Billy.”
Hanning, of House Springs, MO, joined Local 562 in 2003 when he was 18. A week later, he found out he had bone cancer below the knee in his right leg. After months of chemotherapy, he had the lower leg amputated.
ALWAYS AN ACTIVE ATHLETE
Having been an active athlete in other sports prior to the cancer diagnosis, Hanning tried to play different sports afterward, but it just wasn’t the same. In 2008, he became interested in sled hockey and joined the Disabled Athlete Sports Association (DASA) St. Louis Blues, later assisting the team in winning the 2013 USA Hockey Adult Sled National Championship.
“DASA has been a great outlet for me,” he said. “We’re all facing the same challenges and you’re not judged. You almost feel normal again.”
CALLED UP FOR THE NATIONAL TEAM
As a U.S. National Development Sled Hockey Team member, he was called up to the U.S. National Team in 2012 to play in the World Sled Hockey Challenge, marking his international competition debut. He won gold in the World Championship in 2015 and silver in 2017.
In January, he got the call that he would be representing Team USA in his first Paralympics. Hanning, a 33-year-old journeyman plumber at Local 562 contractor J.J. Kokesh and Son Plumbing, said he is grateful to his employer for being by his side throughout his journey in sled hockey.
“They understand that this has been a big deal and have really worked with me to give me time off when I needed it,” he said. “They’ve been rooting for me all along.”
Hanning’s wife Lauren and his sister were in the stands when Team USA defeated Canada 2-1 in the overtime thriller that won gold.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” he said.