By Madalyn Howitt
In a Paralympic Games with more athletes and gender equity than ever before, goalball stands out as a unique discipline — and one that will be flush with competitors from Ottawa.
Goalball is one of only two Paralympic sports that doesn’t have a direct equivalent event in the Olympics (the other being boccia) and it was designed specifically for players who are legally blind (the International Blind Sports Federation is the official governing body for the sport).
For Ottawa viewers, goalball also stands out for how many players on Canada’s roster are from the capital. Three of the six members on Canada’s women’s goalball team are from Ottawa. Returning players Amy Burk and Whitney Bogart, and rookie Emma Reinke all live in the city (rounding out the team are Meghan Mahon, Brieann Baldock and Maryam Salehizadeh).
In goalball, players wear eyeshades and compete in three-on-three matchups where they try to throw or roll a ball containing a bell into their opponent’s goal.
Using hand-ear coordination, players use the sound of the bell to judge the position and movement of the ball and throw themselves in the way of it to block goals and passes.
Those who know the game best, however, say simply explaining it to the unacquainted doesn’t really do it justice.
“You have to really see the game in person or on video to actually get an idea of how challenging [it is],” said Trent Farebrother, coach of Canada’s women’s goalball team and himself a two-time Paralympian in 1988 and 1992.
“Players are throwing the balls upwards of 60 kilometers an hour, [which] doesn’t give them much time to react. The speed the game is impressive, and how people can orientate themselves without their sense of sight,” he explained.
With the extra year to prepare, the Canada’s team was able to hire a new high-performance director and devoted more time to individual strength training and development. “I actually believe it has made significantly better than we would have been last year, so it’s been a positive thing for us,” said Farebrother.
Team captain Amy Burk agrees.
“We really kind of broke some things down and changed the whole atmosphere,” Burk said.
“Our practices are completely different now from what they were before, and our team cohesion now is so much stronger than what it was in March of 2020. You can tell this group really wants it. Everyone has each other’s back and it’s more of a solid family than just six players,” she added.
Canada’s first opponent on the court will be Russia, one of the top ranked teams in the world, but Farebrother is confident his team is ready to show how they’ve grown.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the last year and a half of preparation translates into performance,” he said. “The team chemistry is awesome, so we’re on our way.”
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