By Madalyn Howitt
For many athletes who play a team sport, a team can feel like a family. Players of different ages and personalities spending much of their time together, all working towards a shared objective.
For veteran goalball player Whitney Bogart, that feeling of being part of a family is one of her favourite parts of the sport.
“I’m often referred to as the ‘team mom’,” laughed Bogart. “I’m fairly calm and relaxed all the time, so it’s a thing that helps with people being able to approach me and just talk things out if they need to.”
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Bogart initially started out in sport as a swimmer, and while she still enjoys the discipline, the solo nature of competitions wasn’t as appealing to her as being part of a team.
“In [a swimming] competition you’re on your own, whereas in goalball you have people there that’ll bring you up and help you get to where you need to be,” she said.
Tokyo 2020 will be the defensive player’s third Paralympic Games, and the experience she brings with her is something she’s keen to share with her younger teammates.
“I like seeing our younger players reach their potential. When I was younger, I never really thought about myself in the role of where the veterans were on the team, so now it’s cool to be in that reverse situation. I just really enjoy having the young ones around and watching them grow and being able to help them when they need the help,” she said.
One of those young people is her teammate Emma Reinke, who at 23 is competing in her first Paralympics.
“Whitney is very patient. She’s quiet [and] brings a calm energy,” Reinke said. “There’s a lot of positivity in there and we get along really well — I often find myself at Whitney’s house.”
Another person who spends a lot of time with Bogart off the court is teammate Amy Burk, who also happens to be her sister-in-law.
“We live a couple of minutes away from each other and our kids are all basically the same age, so we’re always together,” explained Bogart. The time they spend together as a real-life family has had a positive impact on their competitive play.
“We’ve developed a relationship on the court [where] we don’t even really need to talk to each other anymore,” Burk shared. “We know where each other is all the time and when we’re handing off the ball it’s very easy and seamless for the two of us.”
“She’s probably our strongest all-around defensive player in any of the three positions,” added coach Trent Farebrother, who has known Bogart since 2013. “She’s just a really good team player [with] an even-keeled personality.”
Bogart has certainly built a reputation as a beacon of support for her teammates, and she says she feels the same energy from them. That’s why this past year, with restrictions on team practices and social gatherings, was difficult for Bogart.
“I had a harder time working out on my own because I enjoy working out with other people,” she said. “I had to learn how to push myself to still get the same workouts in on my own.”
The motivation to be her best in Tokyo for herself and for her team, however, kept her focused on staying strong.
“I got the extra year to be even better than what I was, so I can’t let up,” Bogart said. “I’m just happy that the Games have been able to happen. I’m just going in with an open mind that things are going to be different, but there’s so much still to look forward to.”
“Ever since Tokyo was awarded the Games we’ve been saying ‘I can’t wait to go to Tokyo’ because [they] are going to be amazing games,” she added. “Japan in general is so accessible so we know that the Paralympics are going to be really well done.”
Like her teammates, Bogart also hopes more coverage of the Paralympics will mean more interest in goalball.
“In my career I’ve seen it adapt and change quite a bit, and I hope that it continues to grow, and we get more players and more countries playing the sport,” she said. “It’s still so unknown. It’d be nice to say, ‘I play goalball’ and [people know] like they do basketball,” she said.