For its visually impaired competitors, the game of goalball moves at the speed of sound

Edmonton's Brieann Baldock, who is legally blind, is part of the Canadian Paralympic goalball team.

Edmonton's Brieann Baldock is heading to Tokyo with Canadian Paralympic team

Brieann Baldock in action at the Vancouver Goalball Grand Slam. (Manto Artworks)

Brieann Baldock crouches in front of her goal-post, tracing her fingers on the ground to feel the taped string — her best indication of her position on the court. 

She and her teammates wear opaque eyeshades to ensure they can't see anything despite all of them having varying degrees of visual impairment.

The moment she hears the sound of jingling approaching at a fast clip, she dives for the ball. 

If she misses, the ball — which is a bit bigger than a basketball and weighs about 1.25 kilograms— goes into the goal behind her, scoring a point for the other team. But if she stops it, her three-person team will use an underhand throw to return the ball into play.

The key is to do it with such speed and skill as to "trick the other team into not hearing where the ball is," Baldock explained on CBC's Edmonton AM on Friday. 

The game is called goalball, a team sport designed specifically for the visually impaired. Baldock, who hails from Edmonton, is headed to Tokyo next month to compete with the Canadian team at the Paralympics.

"It was very surreal and it was extremely exciting," she said of being selected. 

Baldock, in the foreground, with her teammates. (Submitted by Brieann Baldock)

When she told her family after making the trials in May, she said they "burst out" in excitement. "It was crazy. It was a really cool moment," she said. 

According to her Team Canada profile, Baldock was born with oculocutaneous albinism, a rare inherited disorder causing a reduction in pigmentation in the skin, hair and eyes. The condition is known to create vision problems. 

The condition has left Baldock legally blind since birth. 

Baldock first came across goalball when she was young but, according to her parents, she didn't like it. At the age of 16, she was encouraged to try it again at an Alberta Sports and Recreation Association for the Blind event. 

She said she was the only kid at the event and was "kind of scared because it was this ball coming at me relatively fast."  But this time she loved it.

"It was really crazy to have that experience of liking it again and really just falling in love with the idea that I could get to an elite level," she said. 

The pandemic put a dent in her training, as court times were hard to find, but she was able to create a makeshift training space in her home. 

Her parents let her take over the garage as her personal gym — "Shout out to them for letting me do that," she said — and she enlisted family and friends to train with her. 

Baldock leaves for Tokyo on Monday. Her first match takes place on Aug. 25 when Canada plays against the Russian Paralympic Committee.


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