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Journeys of Discovery: Qualifying for Paralympic goalball

Associate producer Rebecca Nolan reports from Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she learns about goalball—a team sport designed specifically for blind athletes.

Lisa Czechowski has always been athletic. Even though she had a hard time seeing, even a child, that never stopped her playing soccer or basketball with her brothers. She never thought she had any limitations.

Czechowski has a condition called nystagmus, which is an involuntary repetitive eye movement. She’s had it her entire life, affecting her vision and depth perception. She also has cone-rod dystrophy that makes her hypersensitive to light and unable to see colors.

Growing up visually impaired, Czechowski never thought she could compete in team sports. But that changed when she got to high school and excelled at track and field. An adaptive PE teacher took note and introduced her to goalball; Lisa was hooked.

Czechowski has been involved with goalball since 1995. She attended the 1996 Paralympics in Atlanta as an alternate for the US Women’s Goalball team. Since then she has competed in five Paralympics, winning four medals.

Goalball was invented in 1946 by Austrian Hanz Lorenzen and German Sepp Reindle as a way to help rehabilitate veterans who had lost their sight in World War II. Goalball grew in popularity across Europe in the '50s and '60s, and was first introduced onto the world stage in 1972 at the summer Paralympics. It was officially added to the Paralympics Games as a medal-earning sport in 1976.

Goalball is played indoors, usually on a modified volleyball court. Each team is comprised of three players whose goal is to roll a three-pound ball into their opponents net. The ball is impeded with bells so the players can track it as it moves across the court.

Since goalball is played by athletes with various visual abilities, all players are required to wear specially designed blindfolds. The players use hand-ear coordination and team communication to play. Learn more about the rules and history of goalball at the International Blind Sports Federation’s website

Czechowski and her teammates are part of a residential program at Turnstone, an innovative center for children and adults with disabilities. Turnstone has been serving the community of Fort Wayne, Indiana since 1943.

Originally founded as an organization to continue bedside education for physically disabled children, Turnstone has grown and adapted to serve adults and children of all ability levels. Today Turnstone is home to one of the only goalball courts designated as a Paralympic training site.

In 2019, Fort Wayne, along with Turnstone, won the bid to host the Paralympic qualifiers for judo and goalball. This is the first time that qualifiers like these have been held in the United States.

You are invited to subscribe to the Lowell Thomas Award-winning travel show podcast, Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, featured on the NPR Podcast DirectoryApple Podcast, the NPR One App & Stitcher.com. Twitter: TomCWilmer. Instagram: Thomas.Wilmer. Member of the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Underwriting support provided by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.