“Goalball taught me confidence” says America’s Eliana Mason, ahead of crucial IBSA World Games campaign
An American Paralympian who was born with cataracts is aiming for gold ahead of the world’s largest sporting event for blind and partially sighted athletes.
Goalball player Eliana Mason from Beaverton, Oregon, is heading across the Atlantic Ocean this summer to compete at the 2023 IBSA World Games in Birmingham – knowing that a first-place finish will qualify the USA women’s goalball team for next year’s Paralympic Games in Paris.
It will be the latest step of a remarkable journey for the 27-year-old who lives with glaucoma and has no vision in her left eye, while her right eye means she has to be 20 feet away to see what fully-sighted people can see from 300 feet away.
“I have a very limited visual field,” Eliana said. “If I want to see something, I have to physically turn my head from side to side to get it into my field.”
Growing up as the middle sibling between two sports-mad brothers, it wasn’t until she reached kindergarten that Eliana realised what was ‘normal’ for others wasn’t normal for her.
She said: “The teacher was talking about the board and I am like ‘what in the world is the board, what is she talking about?’. There is a definitely that moment when I was like woah, I definitely don’t see the way other kids do.
“It presented physical and mental challenges. Physically, just the logistics of trying to keep up in a world that is meant for sighted people when you’re blind. I love sports and I just couldn’t see the ball to keep up the way I wanted to.
“Mentally there was a battle with myself. I wanted to be like everyone else, wanted to fit in, and I didn’t want to accept that I was different.”
After trying track athletics and many years of cheerleading, Eliana’s thirst for team sport participation was going unquenched until, aged 14, she was introduced to goalball while at a Washington State School sport camp.
She struck up a friendship with United States goalball players Jen Armbruster and Asya Miller and her journey with the sport that would change her life was firmly underway.
“I wanted a team sport,” Eliana explained. “I also tried Soccer when I was 10. By the time I could see the ball, it was kicked away. I remember feeling so frustrated and defeated because everyone was running around and I just felt so lost and isolated. And not for a lack of ability, it was the visual ability.”
Goalball is three-a-side sport that sees all participants wear eye shades to create a level playing field. The ball has bells in it and matches are played out in near silence to assist with detection.
Elite players are capable of throwing the ball up to 40mph in offence while in defence, players use explosive actions to spring from crouched positions to block the ball with their bodies.
“We try to be quiet and stealthy on the court so the opposing team can’t really hear where we’re at,” Eliana said. “Imagine doing burpees for like an hour straight, that’s similar to what we’re doing. We’re down, we dive, we pop up, we throw the ball. Repeat. So, it’s high impact and intense.”
On her lengthy CV is a silver and bronze medal respectively at the 2016 and 2020 Paralympic Games as well as a gold medal at the 2014 World Championships.
Through the sport, Eliana has travelled to 12 different countries with England this summer being the 13th, and also met her boyfriend Calahan Young, who is a captain of the USA men’s goalball team.
She added: “Goalball taught me confidence. It was empowering to be on that goalball court, not have to compensate for my vision loss, or adapt or adjust, I could just be me. That was the first time I realised what it felt like to truly be and not have to work ten times as hard just to keep up with everyone else.”
The IBSA World Games – of which RNIB is the lead sponsor – is taking place in the United Kingdom for the first time this August, and has massive importance for Eliana and her squad.
“It is so important in so many ways,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of high-quality competition there. For us, this is our next chance to qualify for the Paralympic Games in Paris 2024.
“Every team puts up a great challenge. You always know Japan and China will give you a really good challenge, Israel is really difficult. Great Britain is becoming more and more challenging every time we see them. We have tied with them before, we’ve gone neck and neck with them. You have Brazil, Denmark, Canada, there’s going to be so many great countries there.
“To qualify for Paris, we need to be walking away with the gold medal. That is what we are training for. This is the highlight and the peak of our season is going to the IBSA World Games and putting our best foot forward.”
For more information about the 2023 IBSA World Games visit www.ibsagames2023.co.uk, and for more details on ways that blind and partially sighted people can get involved in sport, see British Blind Sport and RNIB’s See Sport Differently campaign: www.britishblindsport.org.uk/see-sport-differently.
For further details about goalball, the Paralympic sport for blind and visually impaired people, and Goalball UK, the National Governing Body for the sport, visit www.goalballuk.com.
Photo caption: Eliana Mason in action. Photo credit: USABA/Kirby Wolff.
About the 2023 IBSA World Games
The 2023 International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) World Games is the largest high-level international event for athletes with visual impairment, with more than 1250 competitors from 70 nations. Due to take place from 18-27 August 2023, held at the University of Birmingham, across the Edgbaston and wider region.
The International Blind Sports Federation (IBSA) has been representing and developing athletes and sports for people with visual impairments for 40 years.
As a founding member of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), IBSA plays a crucial role in growing both Paralympic sports and Para sport more widely. It has become the world’s leading organisation for the development of sport for people with visual impairments.
About British Blind Sport
Based in Leamington Spa, British Blind Sport is the national disability sport organisation that represents blind and partially sighted people in sport across the UK. The charity helps blind and partially sighted people get active and play sport. Sport and recreational activities can enhance the lives of people with sight loss, by improving their health and increasing their social interaction. British Blind Sport encourages adults and children to participate in activities at all levels, from grassroots to the Paralympic Games.