By Madalyn Howitt
When Amy Burk’s teammates talk about what she brings to the goalball court, they all agree on one thing: intensity.
“She is the full-on leader on the team. She has a very strong personality on and off the court,” said Whitney Bogart, who is both Burk’s long-time teammate on Canada’s goalball team and her sister-in-law (Burk is married to Bogart’s twin brother).
“She’s loud – she’s probably one of the most vocal, competitive people I’ve met. We all may be competitive, but she shows that she’s competitive,” laughed Bogart. “It helps the whole team to have that same mindset.”
Learn more about goalball – read: Ottawa trio to represent Canada on the goalball court
Burk’s reputation for being a passionate competitor has served her well in her goalball career. She is the captain of the women’s goalball team and a veteran of the sport — the Tokyo Games will be her fourth time at the Paralympics.
“She’s our strongest offensive player on the team, but she’s [also] solid defensively. Her drive is to be the best is one of her strongest suits,” said coach Trent Farebrother.
“Her drive is incredible,” echoed teammate Emma Reinke, also of Ottawa, who said Burk’s intense leadership is something she looks up to.
That push towards excellence has always a part of Burk’s goalball journey, but it took some time to achieve the discipline and leadership skills that her teammates now admire her for.
“I’ve really learned that to be able to perform at your peak, you really need to take care of your body, and I’m sad that it took me until almost my 30s to clue into that,” she laughed.
Thinking back to her first Paralympics in Beijing, Burk shared that while naturally competitive, she didn’t always take the steps she needed to off the court to perform at her best on the court.
“Even as a teenager I don’t think my workout ethic was the greatest — it was kind of half-assed sometimes,” she joked. “Being young you don’t think you need to do the warm-ups or the cool-downs, but when you reach your mid-20s you realize you’re not going to be awesome and young forever, so you have to start playing smart. I think my work ethic has changed a lot over the last 13 years,” she said.
Now, that more mature work ethic has propelled her to being one of the most prominent representatives of goalball in Canada and a source of wisdom for younger players. Thinking about what she hopes her team will experience in Tokyo, especially the rookies on the roster, Burk knows from experience that once the Games begin, the best strategy is simply to enjoy the ride.
“One of the things I keep telling the group is that we’ve put in the work for the past five years, and now it’s just time to have fun. Everyone wants to win and be the greatest, but as silly as it sounds, if you’re not having fun and enjoying what you’re doing but there’s no point in doing it,” she said.
“We have made it to the highest level that we can in our sport and we’re representing Canada, which is a huge honor,” she went on. “Live in the moment and [make] the best memories.”
“When I was growing up it was the only team sport for blind or visually impaired athletes, so the fact that it is unique was a big draw for me,” Burk shared. “The game has changed so much from when I started though. You’re always trying to find new ways to get the ball to bounce a different way and to try to get the speed of the ball up.”
She hopes more media coverage of the Paralympics will lead to new fans of the dynamic sport. “If it comes across your app, give it a click — I think it’s something that everyone should experience, she said, but added that she’s thrilled to see goalball already growing in popularity internationally. No longer just a sport dominated by Canada, the U.S. and the U.K., teams around the world are keeping Burk and her teammates on their toes.
“There’s just so many high-caliber teams now and it’s amazing to see. We’re going into Tokyo taking no team for granted because you can’t at this level,” she said.
Still, that trademark competitive edge is clear as Burk readies herself and her team for what will be a tough competition.
“I’m just extremely confident in the group and I’m excited to get going.”
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