Interview With 7 Time Paralympian Jen Armbruster

Interview With 7 Time Paralympian Jen Armbruster

She led Team USA to Goalball Gold in 2008 and hopes to repeat this September.
26
views

Last week, I published an article about the amazing and intriguing sport of Goalball. Goalball is played by blind and vision impaired athletes and is featured in the fast approaching Rio Paralympic Games. I reached out to Jen Armbruster for the inside perspective into the sport.

Jennifer Armbruster is a world class Goalball player for Team USA. She has competed in six Paralympic Games (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012) and Rio 2016 will be her seventh and final Games. She is a 2008 Paralympic gold medalist, 11 time National Champion and two time World Champion with USA.

How did you first get involved with adaptive sports and goalball?

Well I was playing basketball, softball, soccer etc. and the summer of 1989 is when I started having vision issues while I was on the softball field, it went one eye at a time and that summer was the summer before my freshman year. So I played volleyball limited as a server only as I could not follow the ball well enough at that point as both eyes were effected at that point. Then basketball season rolled around which was supposed to be my ticket to college. I had only [peripheral] vision in my left eye that was usable. I was still playing competitive basketball and they wrote a story around Thanksgiving time about me being legally blind and still playing B-ball. A local teacher at the school for the blind looked me up in the phone book and asked if I wanted to play Goalball. So my father and I went down to check it out one weekend as the school happened to be in Colorado Springs and we lived right there. I never attended the school for the blind but they gave my father and I a key to the gym and we practiced on weekends as well as my parents bringing me downtown after basketball practice to play with other VI (vision impaired) kids from the school a couple of days a week.

How does the preparation for goalball differ from the preparation for other sports given that it is so unique?

I would say the training as far as physical and mental training is very much the same. The dedication and commitment to training both on and off the court is the same. Some of the specific skills are totally different as you are working on hand-ear coordination versus eye-hand coordination in most sports. Also the communication on the court is totally different then in other sports. You can only communicate at certain times and for the most part it is verbal communication only as we won’t see the eye to eye communication that you see in basketball or other sports when you want a teammate to do something different.

Also the coach/player communication is different as well as they can’t just coach the entire time, just during breaks in play.

You've competed in several Paralympic Games, which was your favorite and why?

This is always a hard one for me. Barcelona is special as it was my first one, but Beijing was magical as it truly was a fairytale. It started when I was elected flag bearer for the opening ceremonies, so to lead team U.S.A. into the Olympic stadium was amazing and very humbling. Then we were in must-win situations towards the end of pool play and then of course semis and finals etc. Two of my teammates and I who had been together since the 2000 games played every minute of the last 5 matches, culminating in the gold medal match against China where we came out on top 6-5 and got to hear our national anthem being played and our flag being raised. It was incredible especially after coming up short in Athens four years before finishing with the Silver and 5 of the 6 of us were returning from the 2004 games.


What are you looking forward to most in the upcoming Rio Paralympics?

I think mostly our team wants to defend our World Championship title from 2014 and also have a better showing then we did in London. Again four of us are returning from London and we would like to medal and redeem ourselves a bit. Also it is the last games for three of us it looks like who have been together since 2000.

Through the past few months I've noticed how tight knit the adaptive sports community is both online and at events. How has the adaptive sports community helped you along the way to your accomplishments and on to some of the biggest stages in goalball?

There is a huge support group out there with shared experiences both at the different level of competition for sure. Also it is the area in which I work and volunteer. I have been in the world of adaptive/inclusive rec and sport not only as an athlete but as a coach and mentor as well as a professional. I have been working in the field since 2000.

In the same way, what steps do you think the adaptive sports community and goalball communities need to take in order to grow?

Well I think just getting more coverage of Paralympic sport is huge. There are still a lot of folks out there that just don’t know about it at all. I think increase coverage is huge for not only the competitive athlete but by increasing coverage then more folks know about opportunities that exist for their kids, brothers, sisters, parents etc. Therefore getting folks active in general and just living a healthy active lifestyle is huge.

I also think for example goalball, wheelchair basketball, etc. are just sports, so invite folks to play and compete with us.

For example I run a college tournament for Goalball and both sighted and blind play. We just see it as a sport. I cannot ask for equal access to gyms and P.E. at the same time excluding folks from my sport. So again I’m a big fan of including folks especially in our sport of goalball. It is a small population of folks that play and often there are not the numbers for teams, so why can’t your friend, brother or sister play with you? It just makes sense to me.


Huge thanks to Jen Armbruster for lending her knowledge and perspective into this amazing sport. I think this will give people a deeper understanding of what they will see this September and on a greater scale in the future.

I will comment in this (and all my other articles) when schedules and livestreams become available for the Rio Paralympic Games!




Cover Image Credit: Guang Niu

Popular Right Now

The Coach That Killed My Passion

An open letter to the coach that made me hate a sport I once loved.
168824
views

I fell in love with the game in second grade. I lived for every practice and every game. I lived for the countless hours in the gym or my driveway perfecting every shot, every pass and every move I could think of. Every night after dinner, I would go shoot and would not allow myself to go inside until I hit a hundred shots. I had a desire to play, to get better and to be the best basketball player I could possibly be.

I had many coaches between church leagues, rec leagues, personal coaches, basketball camps, middle school and high school. Most of the coaches I had the opportunity to play for had a passion for the game like I did. They inspired me to never stop working. They would tell me I had a natural ability. I took pride in knowing that I worked hard and I took pride in the compliments that I got from my coaches and other parents. I always looked forward to the drills and, believe it or not, I even looked forward to the running. These coaches had a desire to teach, and I had a desire to learn through every good and bad thing that happened during many seasons. Thank you to the coaches that coached and supported me through the years.

SEE ALSO: My Regrets From My Time As A College Softball Player

Along with the good coaches, are a few bad coaches. These are the coaches that focused on favorites instead of the good of the entire team. I had coaches that no matter how hard I worked, it would never be good enough for them. I had coaches that would take insults too far on the court and in the classroom.

I had coaches that killed my passion and love for the game of basketball.

When a passion dies, it is quite possibly the most heartbreaking thing ever. A desire you once had to play every second of the day is gone; it turns into dreading every practice and game. It turns into leaving every game with earphones in so other parents don't talk to you about it. It meant dreading school the next day due to everyone talking about the previous game. My passion was destroyed when a coach looked at me in the eyes and said, "You could go to any other school and start varsity, but you just can't play for me."

SEE ALSO: Should College Athletes Be Limited To One Sport?

Looking back now at the amount of tears shed after practices and games, I just want to say to this coach: Making me feel bad about myself doesn't make me want to play and work hard for you, whether in the classroom or on the court. Telling me that, "Hard work always pays off" and not keeping that word doesn't make me want to work hard either. I spent every minute of the day focusing on making sure you didn't see the pain that I felt, and all of my energy was put towards that fake smile when I said I was OK with how you treated me. There are not words for the feeling I got when parents of teammates asked why I didn't play more or why I got pulled after one mistake; I simply didn't have an answer. The way you made me feel about myself and my ability to play ball made me hate myself; not only did you make me doubt my ability to play, you turned my teammates against me to where they didn't trust my abilities. I would not wish the pain you caused me on my greatest enemy. I pray that one day, eventually, when all of your players quit coming back that you realize that it isn't all about winning records. It’s about the players. You can have winning records without a good coach if you have a good team, but you won’t have a team if you can't treat players with the respect they deserve.

SEE ALSO: To The Little Girl Picking Up A Basketball For The First Time


Cover Image Credit: Equality Charter School

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Figure Skating Is A Mental Game

Being a competitive athlete, there's many downs but there are moments where it's worth while.

151
views

I feel so anxious that it feels like someone is constantly breathing down my neck. My heart is beating at 100 mph. My insides are tightening up and my palms are sweaty. My legs are frozen to a point where they are numb. The smell of hairspray and the taste of red lipstick lingers. The feeling of the ice against my blades is music to my ears. I tied my skates multiple times so it feels perfect. I keep moving to keep warm.

"Am I supposed to feel this way?".

"It's okay to feel this way, it's normal. I would be concerned if you didn't. Nevertheless, I believe in you. You have worked so hard for this".

"I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, right now. If I don't do well, I failed everyone even myself".

"Don't think like that, you have prepared yourself well and you should have faith in yourself also. No matter what happens today, you should be proud of what you have accomplished in over the years you have skated. This is a lesson in life. If something knocks you down seven times, you get up eight times. That's what this sport has taught you. You are stronger than you think. This is your passion so let go of all of reality now and skate for yourself. Show everyone what you can do, this is your moment".

"Thank you, for everything".

She's right, you are stronger than you think. This is a mental game. If you tear yourself down, you're going to go down. Focus, you have to focus. As she said, you love this sport, the adrenaline and the feeling of being powerful. For once, you actually feel beautiful. Never mind that, but you are beautiful. Outside and in, and beautiful to watch. Skating is my escape from reality which is everything that I don't want, what I don't need. The pressure of being perfect, the mental breakdowns, the fear of failure, and the fear of getting hurt. Anything can happen within any moment but it's a risk that's worth taking.

Just forget it, there's no need to keep dwelling on the things that you can't change. This, right now, is all about you. This is your moment. Take it and never let go.

"And our next skater representing the Summit Figure Skating Club of North Carolina, Jessica Tran".

"Alright, do it to it".

I went out with a smile, the crowd cheering me on as I am getting ready to start my program.

"Breathe, take a deep breath. You got this, trust yourself".

As soon as I stood right in front of the judges, I was ready. The music began, filling the rink with a sudden shock. I turned on my character, my determination, and my love for skating.

Once the music stopped, everything stopped. It went by so fast that all I could really remember was the moment I finished. The heavy breathing, the sore arms, and weak legs. With a huge smile, I bowed to the judges and then to the crowd. I did it. I didn't care about the small mistakes that I did. I didn't care that I landed a difficult element. I didn't care that I fell on the easiest thing that I could do. All that mattered was the fact that I kept going. At the end of the day, medal or not, I'm still a winner.

Related Content

Facebook Comments