FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE)- The United States Men’s Goalball team is headed to Rio de Janeiro for the Paralympics. Over the last year, the team has been training for the big event in the Plassman Athletic Center at Turnstone. That’s where they had a big send off Monday night. A crowd of spectators were there to cheer on the six-man team.
The sport is for people who are visually-impaired: the athletes toss a ball that has a bell in it toward their competitor’s goal. Players wear blindfolds and act as both defenders and attackers as they try to block goal attempts and try to score.
This is the first time the team is headed to the Paralympics since the 2008 Games in Beijing, where they placed fourth. They didn’t qualify for the 2012 games in London, but now they’re ready to bring home the gold.
“It’s definitely taken a lot of hard work,” said Daryl Walker. “Specifically sacrifice.”
Walker and the rest of the team came from cities all over the country to train for the game. He left his home in Jacksonville, Florida and has been training in Fort Wayne since October 2015.
“To be here at Turnstone right now is a dream come true,” he said.
Walker, who has been a part of Team USA since 2003, never imagined he’d have the opportunity. Growing up he loved sports but said his visual impairment held him back.
“I was one of those kids that just loved basketball,” said basketball. “I wanted to ‘be like Mike’ as they say.”
He said his visual acuity has nothing to do with the game of Goalball, which is why he fell in love with it.
“We all have varying different degrees of blindness,” he said. “But whenever I put that blindfold on it takes that away completely. So now all the things that had me at a disadvantage for playing sports, has me at an advantage for playing Goalball.”
Coach Matthew Boyle said training full-time at Turnstone gave the team an advantage that they didn’t have before.
“We definitely expect to do well in Rio having the opportunity to play every day now,” said Boyle.
Win or lose, Walker said just having the experience in Rio is well worth it.
“The plan is to go out here and be successful and win gold,” he said. “But if we come up short the best thing I love about this team is that we’ve all put in the time, we’ve all put in the effort, we’ve all put in the sacrifices, and we’ve grown to be a brotherhood.”
The athletes are headed to Rio Tuesday morning for the 2016 Paralympic Games and will compete September 7 through the 18.
Turnstone is a designated Gold Level Paralympic Sports club. The facility provides therapeutic, educational, wellness and sports for people with disabilities.