A St. Augustine resident and a Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind graduate are heading to the Paralympics in Tokyo, representing the United States in a sport many might not have heard of: goalball.
Created in 1946 as a way to help blind World War II veterans, goalball “is the most popular team sport for the blind and visually impaired,” according to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes.
The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind is a powerhouse in the sport, having racked up more than 20 national championships.
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“It’s the best doggone sport you’ve never heard of,” said Keith Young, coach of the USA Men’s Goalball Team and the boys’ goalball team at FSDB.
Young and Daryl Walker, who graduated from the school in 2001, made their way to Tokyo this week. But they took time to talk with The Record before departing.
It’s ‘an honor’
Growing up, Daryl Walker wanted to play football, basketball and other sports. While he pursued his desires of becoming an athlete, he faced challenges with albinism, which impairs his vision.
But he never lost his drive to compete.
Walker, now 39 and a Fort Wayne, Indiana, resident, attended FSDB in the ’90s. That’s where he first tried goalball.
But he didn’t become a serious player until after he graduated and was invited to join a team in Florida. He was later invited to try out for the men’s national team, and through hard work has become a key player.
“In goalball, two teams of three players each face each other across a court that is 9 meters wide and 18 meters long,” according to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. “The object of the game is to roll a basketball size ball with bells inside over the opponent’s goal line. Your opponents listen for the oncoming ball and attempt to block it with their bodies. Once they are able to stop the ball and take control of it, they become the offensive team.”
Young said Walker is now, “probably the hardest thrower in the world. … He’s really starting to realize his full potential on the court.”
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This is Walker’s third trip to the Paralympics. He already has a medal from his second trip, when the USA Men’s Goalball Team won silver in 2016 at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Competing in the gold medal match has been the highlight of his career thus far, he said.
“To be able to stand on that podium, receiving a medal like the other Paralympic athletes of that year, like all the other Olympic athletes … it was just something that I’ve always kind of envisioned,” he said.
“This is the most prepared they’ve ever been”
Walker’s dedication to training and the sport of goalball has allowed him to travel to other countries and compete as a world-class athlete.
Walker, who is married, is a yoga instructor. He called the journey to the Paralympics a “dream come true.”
“I’m just very, very proud to be a three-time Paralympic athlete, to be able to represent my family, my friends, my faith, my albinism and just anything else that I’m affiliated with in general. It’s just an honor in general to be a part of this,” Walker said.
As the U.S. men’s goalball team goes for the gold, Young is optimistic about their chances.
“This is the most prepared they’ve ever been. … It’s just a matter of performing at our highest abilities to get that gold medal,” he said.
In addition to Walker, the men’s team includes Zach Buhler, of Indiana; John Kusku, of Michigan; Tyler Merren, of Florida; Matt Simpson, of Georgia; and Calahan Young, of Pennsylvania, according to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes.
The Paralympic Games take place from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.
All goalball games will be streamed on nbcolympics.com and the NBC Sports app, according to Bill Kellick, communications manager for the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes. NBC Sports will also provide coverage.