From:  Jen Armbruster, U.S. Women’s Goalball Team

Fathers Day, June 17, 2012

Without my father and his interest in my sport of goalball, I’m not sure I would be a soon-to-be six-time Paralympian and gold medal winner.

Dad coached sports before I was ever born. He coached softball, basketball and volleyball through his military career, coached youth softball and basketball, and even put his hand in at soccer.  So he has a coach’s mind. 

When I lost my vision I wanted to try this sport of goalball.  Dad watched me compete in my first games in 1992, but the coach in him had him already studying the rulebooks and coming up with innovative drills, strategies and games to practice. 

When he took over the head coach role in 1996, he was ready to lead our team to a bronze medal finish in Atlanta, and then he went on to lead us to a silver medal in the 2004 Athens Games and a gold medal in 2008 Beijing.  Along the way, we also collected two bronzes, a silver, and a gold at the World Championships, and the team has won the gold medal at every Pan Am game he coached. 

When I was named the U.S. flag bearer for the 2008 opening ceremonies, I needed an escort, and it was a no-brainer to pick Dad.  He was career military, so the flag has always meant a lot to us.  He is by far the winningest coach in goalball, and I’m lucky he is my coach and even luckier he is my father.

american flag bearer

Altered Dreams 3/26/12

Growing up, I had two dreams.  One was to play for Pat Summitt, legendary coach of the Lady Vols, and to represent the U.S. in basketball at the Olympics. The second was to join the military, just like my father and my grandfathers. 

Everything looked as if both dreams would be coming true -- or at least I’d be playing college ball, getting a shot at the first dream, and then after that I’d be joining the military and serving my country.

Those dreams changed drastically towards the end of 1989.

On the softball field I started experiencing eye pain and vision loss in one eye, followed three months later by the same symptoms in my other eye.  I was legally blind.  The dreams I had of playing for Pat and then donning a military uniform were flying out of the window. 

However, in the spring of 1990 I was introduced to the sport of goalball after an article ran in the local paper about me being legally blind and playing basketball.  A gentleman called me up to try this sport called “goalball.” I tried it, and liked the physical part of the game and that it utilized my basketball, volleyball, softball and soccer skills.

Later that year I competed at the goalball nationals and was invited by the U.S. coach to come to a training camp and then a trials camp prior to the 1992 Barcelona Paralympic games.

At that point I realized that maybe my dream of representing my country in the Games might not be over just yet.  I made the team for the 1992 games. I’d made it to the Games probably 4 years sooner that I’d expected, as a 17-year-old kid, not a 21-year-old college student.  I would get the chance to put on the red, white and blue and represent my country!  It was incredible. I was living one of my dreams, slightly altered.  Goalball had replaced that #1 competitive sport for me.

However, my second dream -- to put on the military uniform -- was not an option.  Growing up in a career military family and then being thrust into the civilian world is different, to say the least.  But I’ve been fortunate in my career:  since 2006 I have gotten to work with injured military in a sports and recreation setting.  Being around the service men and women always makes me feel like I am home.

And I do get to put on the red, white and blue and serve my country in a totally different way.    This second dream really all came together for me in 2008 when I was elected by my peers to carry the flag for Opening Ceremonies in the Beijing Paralympics.  Our country’s flag!  I received the phone call, and was totally honored and humbled by the experience. 

Even better, I was told I could have an escort into Opening Ceremonies, as I was totally blind and did not have my Seeing Eye dog with me.  It was a no-brainer for me:  I got to walk into Opening Ceremonies with the man who is my father, my coach, and a career military man guiding me!  I held up the Stars and Stripes and felt like I was leading a military parade.  To top it all off, I got to hear the best national anthem in the world -- and the Stars and Stripes were raised again when our U.S. women’s goalball team won gold by beating China in a grueling 6 – 5 game.

So I don’t get to put on camouflage every day and represent, but I do get to wear the red, white and blue, and Stars and Stripes, and represent.  As in the military, I have put in my 20-plus years, and London 2012 might be my last “assignment” as an athlete.  We shall see if I re-enlist as an athlete, or pursue training and coaching the future U.S. representatives.

TOP: Jen Armbruster stops the ball in a Goalball match. BOTTOM: Armbruster (second from left) and the Goalball team take gold in Beijing.

Photos courtesy of Lakeshore Foundation/Daruis Hariri Photography


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