How Was Your Day ... Visually Impaired Athlete?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
You can see, and you probably suck at goalball.
By Eugene S. Robinson
In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”
On Sunday, I have practice. My alarm goes off at 8 am and I start pounding my chest. The hunt for coffee begins with the giggling of my daughters behind me, who have joined in and are pounding their chests. We quickly eat as a family. I throw on my “Suarez” jersey and head down to the court.
It’s easy to mistake my jersey for the professional I share a name with. The other Suarez is Eugenio from the Cincinnati Reds.
So while I’m not the most famous of the Suarez athletes, I do strive to do my best every day to inspire others through my sport and the care I show on and off the court.
I was raised by a single mom in Spanish Harlem with three siblings, including my twin brother, who is also visually impaired.
Which is to say, being an athlete is a part of my identity and has expanded opportunities to care for my family and community through goalball. Part of breaking those stereotypes is expanding the sports we’re paying attention to. Most people have never heard of goalball, but the first thing to know is that it’s like reverse dodgeball, and it’s one of the most popular modified sports for the visually impaired community.
It is played 3 by 3 on a court set up with very clearly marked lines so that players can orient themselves. The objective of the game? To throw a ball with bells inside of it into your opponent’s net while defending your own net by diving to block the ball. Because players have varying levels of eyesight, everyone is required to wear eyeshades and pads on the court.
I was first introduced to goalball during my junior year in high school after transferring to a school for the visually impaired. I was raised by a single mom in Spanish Harlem with three siblings, including my twin brother, who is also visually impaired.
At a public high school, our disability was perceived as a hindrance, and my brother and I were kept from playing sports. This changed when we transferred schools and discovered goalball. In fact, I played competitively on the school’s first team and had the opportunity to play after graduation on an alumni team. I ultimately walked away when our team lost funding, but funding but came back a decade (and two kids) later.
Playing goalball has kept me grounded, and now that I’m a dad, I’ve used the lessons I’ve learned as an athlete to remind myself that I don’t always win, and I don’t always lose. I apply this to life by understanding that you’re going to make mistakes — as a parent and as a professional — but will grow from them. Also, I want my daughters to feel inspired by my story to break barriers of their own, which is why having them watch me at practice is so important to me.
And that’s part of the beauty of goalball: It’s an inclusive community of athletes that’s not only bringing awareness to the visually impaired community, but is as dedicated to the values embodied by their sport as any athlete anywhere. We’re also gaining ground internationally at the Paralympics. It’s also paid off for me, as Dove Men+Care made me the face of a new line of bodywashes, shampoos and deodorants that are designed for all athletes.
Which has me definitely challenging the stereotypes of how athletes are portrayed in the media and in advertising, but it also gives me space to use the platform to advance awareness of goalball.
But as soon as practice is over? My girls and I sit down for brunch and enjoy each other’s company, pounding our chests while I pour down a second cup of coffee. That’s how my day is!