After the coronavirus pandemic canceled the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last summer, a Beaverton native will compete for Team USA this year.
Eliana Mason, 25, will play for the team's goalball team. Goalball is a team sport for the blind and visually impaired.
According to the United States Association of Blind Athletes, the sport originated in 1946 when Austrian Hanz Lorrenzen and German Sett Reindle developed the game as a way to keep blinded World War II veterans physically active. Goalball has since become the premier team sport for blind athletes and is played competitively in 112 countries.
In two teams of three players each, the athletes face each other across a court and roll a basketball size ball with bells inside over the opponent's goal line. Mason has played all three positions but is focusing more on playing "the wings," also known as the outer positions.
"Now that the games are actually happening… it just feels so surreal," said Mason, who was born with severe visual impairments. "We're amped up. We just got back from a trip to Lithuania last week, and it was our first international competition in 18 months. … We're ready to put it all out there on the world stage and show everybody what we've been working on."
Mason also made the team for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She describes it as "one of the most incredible experiences."
The team brought home a bronze medal, but Mason says she's hungry for a gold medal this time around.
As for training, the goalball team practices five days per week depending on goals for the season, which can include agility and balance work.
With the Paralympics right around the corner, Mason is excited to represent Beaverton on the world stage.
"That's my hometown. I grew up there, and went to public school there," she said with a grin on her face.
Mason attended the International School of Beaverton and started playing goalball at 15.
She remembers growing up with two brothers in an athletic sports-oriented family and trying to keep up with them, but she says it was hard visually.
"I tried soccer in elementary school, and I would just get so angry because I couldn't see the ball," recalled Mason. "By the time I've tracked it, it was kicked away. ... I always tried sports and couldn't really keep up with them."
That was until she participated in goalball.
Mason says the sport is special because everyone wears eye shades to block out the playing field, "so no matter what your vision loss is, it's completely equalized."
She added, "For the first time in my life, I was able to be an athlete first and not have to keep up with my vision limitation or impairment, and I could just compete. It was one of the most empowering feelings ever to just get to be free, on the court, and play the sport and not have to work around any limitations."
Mason later earned her bachelor's degree in psychology from Portland State University. Currently, she's studying for her master's in mental health counseling from Antioch University.
"I don't think there's enough counselors out there with lived experience, so I want to bridge a gap," Mason said.
She also works with the Northwest Association for Blind Athletes to work with children who have any type of visual impairment or disability learn adaptive sports at a young age.
"A gap needs to be bridged," she said. "So, I try to give back to different organizations in the Beaverton area and teach goalball to young kids and be a role model or mentor to young blind children because that would have been great for me, so I want to provide that for others."
When asked what she wishes people knew about goalball, Mason replied, "How hard it is. People will visually watch it, and all they see is people throwing a ball back and forth, diving out and blocking it. They're using their eyes to watch the game … but I want them to take a second and imagine not having any vision at all — completely black."
"You're listening to this ball, and you're orienting yourself with a string on the floor with tape over it, and the balls coming at you about 35 or 40 miles an hour and it's three pounds," she added. "You have about a second or less to hear it and react and get your body in this position to block it."
As for Tokyo, Mason is excited to play against other countries around the world — like Russia and Japan — and hopes to bring a shiny new medal home in the process.
The summer Paralympic Games start Aug. 25.
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