From the USA Goalball national team to club founder
Date: August 25, 2023
With 30 clubs practicing Goalball nationally and around 400 athletes – not counting the schools and its practitioners –, the United States of America (USA) is one of the countries in the world with these kinds of numbers in the unique sport of the Paralympic family, which is not adapted from any other sport. Goalball was specially designed for visually impaired people.
A different reality in terms of the recruitment base and a permanent work in progress given the fact that the country continuously looks for new athletes and new fans of the game.
It was exactly what happened with Mindy Cook, one of the players on the USA women’s Goalball national team, which is competing in the 2023 IBSA World Games that are taking place in Birmingham, UK. Six years ago, Mindy didn’t know anything about Goalball, until a co-worker, Jim Debus, mentioned it and invited her to try it.
Mindy, 34, working for the Federal Government as a contractor officer with a degree in economics from the University of Ohio, has suffered since birth from aniridia, a serious and rare eye disorder in which the iris is partly or completely gone. She explained what her first impressions were when she started to play Goalball in 2017.
“I was actually very hesitating about it. It seemed to me to be a very intriguing sport, very challenging because it was played in a fast rhythm. At the same time, it had some interesting parts for which I didn’t have to adapt my vision to play. I really wanted to try”, she started. That perception would turn into a real passion. “The first tournament that I went to, in Michigan, I felt absolutely empowered and very confident; the atmosphere was electric. Above all, we could be athletes. Well, I found my community there”.
Mindy is part of an American generation that grew up in regular schools, not in specific schools for the blind and visually impaired, something that started 40 years ago. Which kind of explains why Goalball appeared so late in her life. The discovery of Goalball, in a certain sense, changed her life. “It was something that I wanted to pursue, something that I really wanted to work out because it was an elite-level sport with a lot of athletes, really high-level ones, and I wanted to be a part of that”.
In the fall of 2018, for the first time, Mindy went to a national residence programme at Turnstone Centre in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the Paralympic Centre for Goalball (also Weelchair Basketball and Weelchair Rugby, among others), where the national teams work. A few months later, she was invited to be a part of the national team. “It was a joy, a dream come true. My teammates are such elite athletes – very skilled and incredible women. To be able to be part of it, it’s an absolute honour!”
Founder of the Ohio Monarchs
Mindy has a full-time job and has training sessions as well, which means that she has to make a three-hour drive from Colombus to Fort Wayne several times a year during the training camps.
It was after she got called to the national team that she and two more friends decided to establish back home the Ohio Monarchs, a Goalball club founded in 2021 to play.
“We wanted to have our own domestic team, so we created a new one to play. Last season was our first, and we were really hoping to develop the sport in Ohio and have more girls play with us. We try to create more awareness about Goalball and make it grow. We had quite a few demonstrations for the community, and we’ve helped with a clinic at the Ohio School for the Blind. The reaction of the people was wonderful; they wanted to start playing and following the sport; they wanted to know more about it, learn the skills, and participate in the growth of the Paralympic movement”.
#Accessibility – Mindy Cook is with her back to the image, with her thumbs pointing to her jersey number 9 in the sports hall of the Convetry Building Society Arena that hosts the 2023 IBSA World Games. On the back of the image is a Goalball’s goal over a total black background.
Regarding the participation of the USA in the 2023 IBSA World Games, Mindy is enjoying every minute of it. “There’s a lot of competition going on. We’ve prepared really well for it; it’s the best Goalball you can get in the world, and we are very excited to be part of it”.
The USA is looking for qualification for Paris 2024, and winning the 2023 IBSA World Games is one of the two opportunities the national team still has for it. The other one is in November, the Parapan American Games, the continental qualification, which will take place in November in Santiago, Chile. The goal is obvious: “We want to be in Paris! We will be in Paris, and the American people can be sure that will happen!”