Disabled Athletes are Now Able to Compete, Even in College

Goalball is a brutal sport. Competitors have to chase a weighted ball that may be thrown at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour around a court while defending their goal from the opposite team to ensure that their shots don’t make it through — oh, and everyone’s blind. Goalball players like Great Britain’s Olympic team (above) follow the ball via the bells embedded inside, and the injuries can rack up, just as with any other Olympic sport. Players can crash into each other in tackles and defense moves, for example, in addition to slipping and falling on the court or breaking their noses on flying balls.

If it sounds bananas to you, it sounds like a lot of fun to players all over the world, and just a few decades ago, sports like this one would have been unimaginable.

This particular sport, developed in 1946, was originally intended for use in rehabilitation programs used to help returning veterans recover and adjust to civilian life. But it’s not the only adaptive or accessible sport. Some, like wheelchair basketball, are rooted in sports played by nondisabled people, while others were developed specifically for the disabled community. As the subjects of Murderball illustrate, disabled athletes play for keeps. They’re just as serious, athletically powerful, and talented as their nondisabled counterparts, and they’re focused on winning.

Historically, many disabled people were told that they couldn’t play sports. People with physical impairments like spinal cord injuries and congenital limb impairments were informed that they’d never be able to walk, let alone run, ruling out a wide variety of sports, while people with vision and hearing impairments were warned that sports would be unfeasible and too dangerous. That’s starting to change, with the efforts of the disability rights movement and athletes interested in pushing themselves to the limit. Now, the Paralympics are an event of global significance rather than an afterthought, and disabled children and young adults are learning that they can play sports if they’d like to, and that college and professional careers are open to them, if they’re so inclined.

UC Berkeley is leading the way for adaptive college sports, and it’s not a surprise. Berkeley, long renowned for its civil rights reputation, also has an excellent sports program, but it’s also seated in one of the most lively communities in America in terms of disability rights activism. Home to a number of advocates past and present, Berkeley has been a driver for reforms across the country, and the university’s creation of a goalball team specifically for college is a huge step in disabled sports. Instead of being excluded from the sports program or pushed to the side (blind runners, for example, might be able to train in the gym, but can’t be on the track team), disabled students can take center stage, and as the program grows, it can be used as a guide for similar programs at other schools.

Should Berkeley’s goalball team take off, it opens the door to wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball, blind running and wheelchair marathons, sprinting, and other track and field events. Berkeley’s programs can prepare athletes for post-college competition, including in events like the Paralympics, and they’ll also encourage other colleges and universities to create teams and build leagues. Someday, blind students might be meeting with sports recruiters just like nondisabled students do today, and young wheelchair users might be encouraged to pursue their track and field interests just like nondisabled children are when they tell their parents they want to become Olympians.

Photo credit: Gavin Taylor

44 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y4 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y4 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y4 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y4 months ago

thanks

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jack B.
Jack B4 years ago

Give everyone a chance to shine.

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Dave C.
David C4 years ago

thanks...........

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ERIKA SOMLAI
ERIKA SOMLAI4 years ago

noted

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Natasha Salgado
Past Member 4 years ago

Wonderful!

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