Eliana Mason is a longtime sports lover. But playing her as a kid was not always easy – or was fun. Take your time with Football for example.
"When I saw where the ball was, he was beaten to the other side of the field," Mason, 23, says to SELF. "I remember being so frustrated."
Born in Beaverton, Oregon, the patient was born with congenital glaucoma and cataracts and had multiple eye surgeries as a child. Today she has no vision at all in her left eye and in her right eye she can only see directly in front of her (no peripheral vision). Hence the fierce disappointment about football.
When Mason was in a summer sports camp with the Washington School for the Blind at the age of 1
If you think … Wait, what's Goalball? – You are not alone. The sport is, as mentioned, part of the Paralympics and "the most popular team sport for the blind and visually impaired" (according to website of the United States Association for Blind Athletes ), but is still relatively unknown to the general public.
Mason hopes to change that. This week, she and Torball athletes from around the world gather in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to compete in the International Blind Sports Federation's (2019-04) Goalball Paralympic Qualifying Competition 2019, which takes place from July 2nd to 9th (19459020) , The tournament marks the first time the competition has been held in the US, Mason says, and she and the rest of the US women's team have been training hard – – to earn a Paralympic Play ticket in Tokyo 2020.
In the run up to the high stakes competition, we talked with Mason and the head coach of US Women's Goalball to learn more about this little-known sport, as Mason became one of them the top -Competitors of the world, what it takes to train and compete at the elite level, and more.
Goalball was launched in 1946 as a rehabilitation measure for veterans who had lost their vision during World War II and made its Paralympic debut in 1976, the official Paralympics website explains . The sport is only played by visually impaired athletes, and during the competition all athletes wear blackout masks, so everyone is blind at the construction site.
According to Mason, the sport is a little hard to explain if you've never experienced it, but this video posted on the Paralympics Games YouTube page might help. As described in the video, the sport is played on a 9 x 18 meter course with a 9 meter wide and 1.3 meter high goal on each end (to be clear, this is a really big one Goal goal). The playing field is tactile, ie there are strings along the borders where the athletes can orient themselves.
Two teams of three players each come onto the pitch with a unique goal: to roll the ball into the opponent's goal as many times as possible during the 24-minute game, which is split into two 12-minute halves. According to Mason, the ball, which weighs about 3 pounds, contains two bells that help players see exactly where they are on the field. During the competition, the crowd is asked to be completely calm so that the athletes can hear the ball. Because the goals are so great, athletes often have to jump on the ground to prevent them from reaching their team's goal. Combine this with the fact that elite players can throw the ball at a speed of more than 65 kilometers per hour, and the game is downright intense with a capital I.
"Goalball is a wonderfully unique sport," said Jake Czechowski, head coach of US Women's Goalball, tells SELF. Czechowski also heads the US Women's Goalball Resident Program in Fort Wayne, and his wife Lisa Czechowski is a member of the US Women's Goalball Team and five-time Paralympian, according to TeamUSA.org . "It is not a derivation of a sport," he adds, but a mixture of several sports.
There is the underhand throw, with which athletes throw the ball into the net, similar to the softball or bowling says Czechowski. Then there are the defensive team components that resemble football or even volleyball, he adds. And then there are individual abilities – such as reaction time, strength, strength, speed, flexibility, spatial awareness, mental strength, and more.
The reaction time is especially important for Goalball. In the elite, athletes throw the ball between 30 and 40 miles per hour, giving the opposing team less than a second to react, Czechowski says. However, within fractions of a second, the athletes must also be patient to ensure that they do not react too fast and dive for a ball that is not there yet. "Wait until you read the ball and your body has reacted to the ball," says Mason. "Do not let the ball play you, but you play the ball."
Since goal ball is played without sight, it is helpful to know both your opponent (for example, to understand what kind of offense he likes to perform) as well as being able to "read the ball," says Czechowski. "You hear a smooth ball compared to a bigger jumping ball compared to a bouncing ball," he explains. "They will produce three very, very different, characteristic sounds." The distinction between these sounds can help defensive players to assess where and how the ball is moving so they can best block it. Sound spatial awareness and the ability to create a mental map of the pitch – to understand where you are in relation to your teammates – are also important.
In addition, Elite Goalball players require strength, speed and power (explosive movement) when the ball is thrown and blocked. These skills are most important to success, says Czechowski. However, the ability to work well with a team and serious mental strength are also critical. "If you throw yourself 100 times on a basketball ground in a 24-minute match; If you throw yourself in front of a 3-pound ball and do so, you have to have a certain mentality where your tenacity is limitless, "says Czechowski.
In addition to mental hardship mental engagement is another crucial component. With games generally performing poorly (for example, when the US won the 2016 Paralympic Bronze Medal, beat Brazil 3 to 2 ), "a mistake could make or break the game," she says. That's why players have to "stay mentally focused."
How Mason Became An Elite Torballer
Shortly after learning about Torball as a young teenager, Mason happened to meet two Paralympic goalie players – Jen Armbruster and Asya Miller – and started training them in Oregon. she says, "I just started, [thinking] it was a funny thing," she explains How much I really loved playing it. "
With Goalball, Mason said she could" try to be my best self without having to adjust to the lack of vision. "Compared to all other aspects of her life Where she had to overcome her limited vision," it is important to be part of an activity that has no limitations. "
It was not long before Mason began to participate in Goalball tournaments, and then as a senior in the upper class was invited to a USA training camp d an international tournament of the USA. "From that point on, I was just obsessed with getting through the training and really trying to form the Rio USA team in 2016," says Mason. And that's exactly what she did – not only to form the squad in Rio 2016, but also to leave Brazil with a bronze medal around her neck.
Now, three years later, Mason once again has Paralympic goals in mind.  What Paralympic Training looks like
In anticipation of the upcoming Paralympic qualifying tournament, the American Women's Goalball team trained in Fort Wayne at the Turnstone Center (a local nonprofit organization). as part of a newly established resident training program. A few months ago, Mason moved to Fort Wayne for the program and is committed to staying out until next summer's Paralympic Games in 2020, she says. [Her boyfriend, Calahan Young, is also in Fort Wayne as a member of the Men’s U.S. Goalball Team, she says].
Thanks to the resident training program, which currently consists of six athletes, the team was able to implement new concepts and strategies more quickly, says Czechowski. "It is allowed to accelerate the learning curve and the training curve," he says. Prior to the program (such as the 2016 Paralympic Training Cycle), the athletes practiced and trained independently of where they lived and only teamed in training camps about every three months, Mason said. "We spent half of the training getting used to each other while we practice every day now," she explains. "We know each other, we know each other's tendencies. We really learned to work as a team instead of three people on the pitch. It's like being a unit. The opportunity and access to daily training has fundamentally changed our team and our game. They will help us on the way to the gold in Tokyo.
What exactly does her training include? ? Well, a lot of (and a lot of) time both on and off the court to improve the skills needed. Overall, about 22 to 23 hours a week, says Czechowski. This includes four days of court practice; three days of strength, plyometrics and conditioning work; and Two Days of Yoga and Agility he says.
To specifically train strength, athletes work with a specialist to perform a variety of movements – such as squats, deadlifts, bench presses, chest lifts, bicep curls, military presses, dumbbells, and more – as well as TRX suspension training This helps to focus on the core and to provide the visually impaired athletes with a "sense of space within the training", explains Czechowski. This allows the "body to relax a little more and you can really focus on the individual movements of the exercise."
Mason also mentions medicine ball throws, ball bangs, balance exercises on a BOSU sledges, planking, combat ropes, Lunges, rowing – and oh, tire puncture. Plyometric work comes in the form of explosive throws and jumps, says Czechowski. There is also time for footwork, speed and agility exercises.
Since Goalball is "a very physical sport," Czechowski says that injuries happen, including bumps, bruises and sprains, as well as more serious traumas such as concussion, knee and shoulder injuries. "The ability to withstand very fast, very abrupt and very uncomfortable movements and movements without the benefit of a visual warning can definitely put a strain on the body," he says. This is where yoga and flexibility training come into play, he explains. In addition to the more than 20 hours per week devoted to training, additional time is available for recreation including regular ice baths, meeting with a sports trainer and using self-massage equipment. All in all, elite basketball training is very time consuming, which is particularly impressive when athletes do not receive financial support for the sport and all members of the women's team either work outside, go to school, and / or volunteer. He adds:
Sport has influenced Mason's life – and what she hopes to do in the future.
Goalball has not only brought Mason Paralympic fame. It gives her confidence and helps her to grow.
"When you're exposed to a community where people with a shared experience are blind or visually impaired, you really learn to become more self-confident and grow," explains Mason. "You see other people who are older than you, as role models. Because when I started, I was in high school, so I saw people who had gone to college, people who were married, people who had children. There are [were] always role models for me – [showing me that] I can do all these things and my disability is not a limitation. "
Looking ahead, Mason wants to help Team USA qualify for the 2020 Paralympics. Once they reach this goal (hopefully), they want to help them bring home medals – preferably in gold – from Tokyo.
"[Eliana] is a perfect example of everything good about adaptive sport. Says Czechowski. "This is a woman with great athleticism and her only stumbling block was her inability to use her vision. When she found the sport of the Goalball, she could try it out. She was able to use all other skills athletically, emotionally, mentally and cognitively to really see how good she can be. "
It is not just about her own success, Mason, who is currently seeking a masters degree in counseling, has made it his mission to pass it on to the younger generation, hoping to be her role model She has spent several summers teaching disabled children how to play sports, including Goalball. "I love working with children and teaching them sports," she says. "I wish I had learned something about [goalball] younger . "