Athletes Show That Skills Can Shine Without Sight

Published July 15, 2007 by Colorado Springs Gazette.

Colorado Springs played host to young athletes from six continents competing in this weekend’s 2007 World Youth and Students Games sponsored by the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. Blind athletes from 13 to 18 years old are participating in three days of competition in judo, swimming, track and field and goalball, a handball-like sport based on a player’s ability to hear and block a ball filled with bells.

The events conclude today. Russia and Brazil had the largest foreign delegations, with 52 and 31 athletes, respectively. Competitors came from 19 countries.

Damien Henderson, manager of the Australian team, got involved in coaching blind sports to support his two visually impaired kids, one of whom is ranked No. 1 in blind powerlifting in Australia.

“At home you’re more at play and you might meet someone from another state, but here we’ve been talking to athletes from around the world,” Henderson said. “It’s really good to see people having a good time but also trying their hardest.”

Officials were unable to provide a medal count due to late evening competitions but final results will be available at usaba.org. The top-seeded U.S. women’s team beat Germany 7-3. Germany beat the U.S. men’s team 10-5. The seeing and visually impaired can play goalball together because all players wear goggles to shield themselves from sight and create a level playing field.

Players spread their bodies across the floor to block their goal and can be seen feeling the ground to find wire under pieces of tape that mark their position on the court. Because the game is based on hearing, audience members must remain quiet during play and until a goal is scored.

“Offense is about getting yourself set up because you can’t see where you’re throwing the ball,” team member Andy Jenks of Delaware said. “So what you do is orient yourself with the ground, the goal or with both.”

David Brown may have traveled the shortest distance to compete with athletes from Mexico, Bulgaria and Brazil. The 14-year-old St. Louis native participated in five events in track and field, including shot put and the 600-meter dash. With silver and gold medals around his neck and a folded walking stick in his hand, he said he hoped to join the more than 4,000 athletes from around the world in the Paralympic Games.

“Winning medals here is kind of hard ’cause everybody wants it,” Brown said “But for the Paralympics you have to set a world record or something, so to win a medal then would be like, ‘Wow.’”

When Brown was 5 and began playing sports, he could see well enough to guide himself. Since then, his vision has deteriorated. It hasn’t made him any less of an athlete but has changed the way he learns.

People with sight can learn by watching a demonstration, whereas, Brown said, “They have to show us where to put our hands and do our feet and all the other kinds of movements and motions.”

JoAnn and Don Ward had never seen blind sports until Saturday when they went to the competition at St. Mary’s High School’s athletic fields on a friend’s suggestion. Don Ward was disappointed by the low turnout but admired the participants for their athleticism and bravery.

“The kids can’t see, and they’re running,” he said. The swimming competition will be at 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. today at the U.S. Olympic Training Aquatic Center.

The judo competition will be at Colorado College’s El Pomar Gym. Closing ceremonies will be at the Worner & Cutler Quad at CC.

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