Hometown: St. Thomas
By Madalyn Howitt
Unlike a lot of athletes who had their sights set on the 2020 Tokyo Games, an extra year to prepare couldn’t have come at a better time for first-time Paralympian Emma Reinke.
“I feel like I am 99 per cent more prepared this year than I would have been last year [when] I was kind of in a little bit of a mental rut,” said the goalball player over an early morning call from a training camp in Sapporo, Japan. “I was harboring an injury and my gameplay was not where I knew it could be, so I don’t feel like I would have been the best I can be both physically and mentally.”
Learn more about goalball – read: Ottawa trio to represent Canada on the goalball court
Referring to the team’s new performance director and additional training strategies, Reinke feels the added support gave her the momentum she needed to make it to Tokyo.
“I’m grateful for the extra year. I think it was a total blessing in disguise,” she said.
Offensive player Reinke will be making her Paralympic debut as one of three rookies with the women’s goalball team, playing alongside returning veterans Amy Burk and Whitney Bogart, who are also from Ottawa.
Reinke’s rise in goalball is due in part to the opportunity she was given to try out the sport at an early age. Reinke attended the W. Ross MacDonald school for blind and visually impaired students in Brantford, Ont., but didn’t play any competitive sports. It wasn’t until she was introduced to goalball in phys. ed class, which was part of the curriculum, that she gradually discovered she had the skills to be a high-performance player.
“I really enjoy that it is so tailored to people like us,” she said, meaning legally blind athletes. “This is the first sport that I’ve ever played where I don’t feel like I have a disadvantage.”
After joining the junior girls’ goalball team, she began playing for teams outside of school, eventually making it to the elite national level.
“It became more of a passion and more of a goal for me to get as far as I possibly could. It’s become something that I wake up every day and do, and it’s given me a lot of purpose,” she said.
Reinke got her big break at the World Championships in 2018, when team captain Burk was away on maternity leave, and Reinke finished as the tournament’s third-leading scorer.
Now, Reinke is a strong offensive force for Canada.
“With [her and Burk] we have two of the top offensive players in the world on our team, so that’s a big strength,” said coach Trent Farebrother.
Reinke’s dedication to the sport hasn’t gone unnoticed by her senior teammates.
“I [love] her commitment to the team,” said teammate Bogart. “She’s the one that I’ve most enjoyed watching grow. I’ve known her since she was 14 or 15 and seeing where she came from to where she is now is amazing. I’m so happy to be at her first Paralympics and getting to witness it in person.”
Burk said Reinke’s warm personality is also a welcome addition to the team.
“She’s competitive, very funny, and very caring. Emma is always the first to make sure that someone is okay,” she said.
Burk added that she appreciates Reinke’s natural athleticism and that competitiveness.
“I very much see some of myself in her. She challenges me to be better offensively, and I see great things for Emma moving forward in her career,” Burk shared.
That career will hopefully include diving into other areas of goalball like promotion and education. Reinke intends to study biology at Carleton University after the Paralympics wrap up, but when she’s not focusing on school, she hopes to channel her energy into lifting goalball to new heights.
“Goalball is not really on the radar in terms of research. I think it would be really cool to get into something where I can start doing studies on people, doing what I can to make it public,” she said. “I’d like the opportunity to be in more of a leadership role for a younger generation.”
For now, Reinke is focused on taking everything she’s learned during the past year and using it to her advantage in Tokyo.
“I think it’s fair to say that it’s not really what I had in mind for my first game, but it’s still going to have the intensity of a Paralympic Games,” she said. “We have a team doctor now we have a physiotherapist now — the extra support has been absolutely unreal.”
“I’m excited that my team and I are going to be in the same space and we’re actually going to be able to hang out with each other,” she added. “It will definitely be more of a family experience.”