FROM:  Lisa Czechowski, Goalball

When I first began goalball, I never thought I would be sitting here today writing a blog about lessons learned. I began the sport in October 1995 as a junior in high school, and I did not have a lot of life experience. I had never flown on a plane or traveled away from the East Coast. Now it’s almost 17 years later – 3 Paralympics, 4 World Championships, many international and national tournaments – and it has been a great ride!

I have met so many wonderful people who helped me find direction in my life, most importantly, my husband.  With the support of our family and friends, my teammates and I continue on our journey toward the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.  The ride continues…

Here are some life lessons I use on the goalball court and in my life outside of goalball. Perhaps they can be of some use to you on your life’s journey.

1. Always have goals.

In my Goalball career I’ve had three coaches, Sharon Gunderman, Ken Armbruster, and Jake Czechowski.  Each has instilled the same goals: “Defense first and the offense will come.”  This has been a key phrase all through my career and something I tell myself during games.  Having goals and the patience to stick to those goals is equally important off the court, in the weight room or in the boardroom.

2. When you fall, get back up again.

During my career, I’ve fallen several times, and injuries in the 2000 and 2004 Paralympic Games did not allow me to participate to my fullest.  Each time, I had to take a different role on the team, to support the team more from the sidelines than the court.  Emotionally and physically this took a toll on me.  Goalball is a tough sport on your entire body, and I’ve had fractures, torn ligaments, pulled muscles, and bruises.  The hardest part was accepting the major injuries I had, using all of that emotion to focus on healing, and then continuing with preparation for the next games.  The 2008 Paralympics was the first time I made it through without a major injury, and it felt great!   So when life knocks you down, get back up again.  You will become that much stronger for your next challenge!

3. Preparation and focus are keys to success.

When I first began playing goalball, I was also competing in track & field in high school, so staying in shape was easy.  When I went off to college and now as I’m working, I’ve had to change my training regimen.  As our athletic trainer says, “You need to work out smarter, not longer”.  It took me a long time to understand that concept.  I train very early in the morning and after work, making sure I maximize my time in the gym and on the goalball court.  My husband has helped me train since I moved to Tucson in 2005, both in the gym and on the goalball court.  He mimics the throws of my competitors and analyzes film to prepare me at practices.

After all of that preparation, there is focus, putting all of my energy into 24 minutes of a game.  Being patient and staying focused throughout the match are important. This also plays true in the real world: patience will allow you to deal with everyday conflicts and problems.  The ability to be calm, cool, and collected is pertinent to a professional in all situations. 

4. Trust your teammates.

Goalball is a team sport, and everyone on the team contributes to being successful.  As a center, I trust that my teammates will make key blocks, back me up on difficult shots, and score goals.  Those teammates trust that I will make key blocks and score goals, too.   We’ve played together for many years and earned that trust.  In goalball, just like any other team sport, “There is no i in team.”  We work hard and support each other to play defense and score goals.  My team is my family, and I am so grateful for their support both on and off the court.  And in everyday life, in the work place, my coworkers are a team and we work together to achieve the mission of our agency.  I trust that my coworkers will work hard and support all team members, as will I. 

Winning the gold medal was one of the most amazing moments of my life, and I always tell my family, friends, and coworkers that the 2008 Beijing Paralympics was a life changing experience for me.  Representing the USA, and doing it with my goalball family, taught me about focus, determination, and perseverance. I learned what it meant to focus and work through the pressure to win games.  (Don’t get me wrong, I still experience nerves, but I know how to work through it now.) Learning to accept my mistakes on the court because my team was there to pick me up was a long journey, but now I am comfortable with it and better for it.  I learned how to put every ounce of energy, focus, and whatever else was needed into that game. 

As I prepare for the upcoming Paralympics, I still look back on that experience to drive me to be a better athlete.   The pace I ran at to prepare for the 2008 Paralympics is not good enough.  I need to run faster, longer, and harder.  I need to train harder so I can give the team all I have.  I need to be mentally and physically stronger … and I WILL!!!

I look forward to the challenge of defending our gold medal when we hit the court in London.  The pressure will continue to drive me to train harder and use every tool possible to prepare for the Games.  Go USA!!!


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