Blind Oregonian competing in Paralympics works to bridge hole between psychological well being, incapacity
“I loved sport when I was growing up, but visually I couldn’t really keep up with my sighted peers.”
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – What is more important: winning a gold medal, completing a master’s degree or developing an international sport?
If your name is Eliana Mason the answer is all of that, and the sport might be one you have never heard of, which is goalball.
It is the only Paralympic sport that is not an adaptation of an earlier sport. It was designed for blind veterans after World War II.
Mason took up the sport and made it an important part of her life.
When she was nine days old, her cataract was removed.
Compared to a person with 20/20 vision, Mason needs objects 15 times closer to see them.
But she never let it bother her.
For Mason, customizing your differences is the name of the game.
“We are athletes, we are resilient, we are constantly faced with adversity in games – so how can we use that to our advantage?” Said Maurer.
And when she plays goalball, everything else seems secondary.
“I love this sport so much,” said Mason. “I enjoy it so much and feel so strong when I’m on the pitch and just becoming an athlete.”
Goalball is designed for the visually impaired.
“So I always joke that goalball is for blind athletes, but you have to see it visually to understand it,” said Mason.
Each player with different visual impairments wears visually blind glasses.
Mason and all goal ball athletes cannot see anything and rely on the sound of the bells in the ball – and their athletic instinct.
The three-pound ball is thrown at up to 40 miles per hour and tries to pass three defenders.
The coaches and fans can only celebrate after a goal and otherwise have to be completely silent.
A native of Beaverton, Mason discovered goal ball when two Paralympians moved to Oregon and changed their lives forever.
“I loved the sport when I was growing up, but visually I couldn’t really keep up with my seeing peers,” she said. “So discovering a sport that is adaptable and intended for blind athletes has changed my life.”
Almost a decade later, she will be competing in her second Paralympic Games and adding a gold medal to her trophy case, which includes a bronze medal from Rio.
Josh Lucas works with Mason at goalball clinics through the nonprofit Angel City Sports.
“She was a phenomenal player back then and has only gotten better since then,” said Lucas.
He trained against her when she was younger and said she was born to lead.
“She’s been such a leader since she was young – I could tell,” said Lucas. “She was always very calm.
Shake it, you can’t.
After the COVID-19 pandemic postponed the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Mason continued to train for the Games while taking courses for her Masters in mental health clinical counseling.
“So I want to bridge that gap between mental health and disability and be individual and work with people who have experience and understanding of what it means to live with a disability – and bridge that gap,” Mason said.
She said that there are many things that are misunderstood at the Paralympics.
“First of all, a lot of people have never heard of them – and that’s just one huge area of the education gap,” Mason said. “And I think people don’t see if you’re a Paralympic athlete, if you train and work as hard as an Olympic athlete.”
Mason wants Paralympic athletes as well as all people with disabilities to be shown a little more understanding.
“I think a lot of people assume what they can or can’t do,” Mason said. “Instead of assuming what someone is capable of, ask them – or let them tell you or show you.”
Lucas knows if it’s on or off the pitch, Mason will change the sport and the lives of many people.
“The impact it could make is immeasurable,” said Lucas. “We don’t know where it’s going, but we need people like her.”
While the long-term goal is to expand the game of goalball as much as possible, the short-term goal is simple: take the gold home with you.
“For the past four years we’ve just trained and worked towards that goal,” said Mason. “So it is time to put all of this into practice and show the world what US goalball is made of.”
Both Mason and her boyfriend Calahan Young, who is on the men’s goalball team, will compete in the Paralympics on August 24th.
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