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.
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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

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10 Reasons Your Big Sister Is The Best Person In Your Life

"There is no better friend than a sister, and there is no better sister than you."
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As much as I hate to admit it, my big sister might be sort-of, slightly, cooler than I am.

Sometimes. She's the one I call when I can't call mom and the only one in the family who can properly handle my attitude. Big sisters are the people you'd choose if they weren't already family, and here's why.

1. She is your first and truest friend.

Big sisters are (literally) there from day one. They see every dirty diaper, every bad haircut, and every melodramatic breakup. They deal with every bad day and drama queen attitude and still love you in the most unconditional way.

2. Her closet is your closet.

For some reason, her clothes always look better on you. Funny how that works, huh? With a big sister comes a big closet, and who doesn't love having a double wardrobe? I'd also like to take this opportunity to apologize for the clothes I will never give back (but I'm not really that sorry).

3. She knows what it's like to deal with your parents.

Anything you could possibly be going through, they went through it first. It's kind of like having an instruction manual or a key to the future. Either way, it's always nice to have someone who will always understand the struggle.

4. There are no boundaries.

Wanna dance around in your underwear all day? Cool. Life talks while she's on the toilet? Also cool. There's no awkward moments or changing in the bathroom with the door locked. There's just the kind of freedom that only comes with siblings.

5. Thanks to her, you know about all of the cool movies/music/fashion trends from years back.

Thanks to my sister, I have every Too $hort and Ludacris song you could ever think of downloaded on my phone. I've seen every cheesy '90s movie, and when a fad from 10 years ago comes back in, I already have the hookup.

6. She tells you like it is.

We all have those friends who tend to sugarcoat everything. Yeah, sisters don't do that. She's the first person to tell me when I'm making a terrible decision and that I really shouldn't triple text that boy again. She keeps it real with me and deals with my attitude, and that's why she's the best.

7. Her home is always open.

Sometimes you just need to get away from life and binge watch Netflix, and sometimes you need all of that plus your sister. She always has her door open when you're two seconds away from losing your mind, and she also has good takeout and a dog.

8. She knows what you're capable of.

My sister knows exactly who I am and what I can do. She knows when I'm not doing my best, and when I need to be set straight. She's always there to remind me who I am and what I'm capable of accomplishing. She's always been my biggest fan.

9. She's a lot cheaper than therapy.

For some reason, my sister always knows just what to say. Even if I don't see it at the time, she's usually right (don't tell her I said that). Big sisters are like wizards, somehow they always magically make you feel like life's gonna turn out alright in the end. If she wasn't already awesome at everything else, I'd suggest she be a therapist.

10. She will always be your go-to gal.

No matter the situation, she will always be by your side. There is nothing you could say or do to make a big sister leave, and that's why they're the best. Whether it's a speeding ticket, a mean girl or you just need to laugh, big sisters are always going to be there to lift your spirits and set you straight.

I couldn't make it without ya sis, I'm sorry for ratting you out on Thanksgiving that one time, and for running away at the zoo. Thanks for taking me to see Aaron Carter even though he's way too old to still be singing "I want Candy," and thank you always for being the best role model, sister and friend I could ask for.

Cover Image Credit: teaser-trailer.com

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Andy Ruiz Jr. May Not Look Like The Typical Boxer, But It Doesn't Make His Victory Any Less Deserved

Andy Ruiz Jr. just proved that dreams can come true.

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On June 1, boxing fans witnessed something special as Andy 'Destroyer' Ruiz Jr. defeated Anthony Joshua via TKO after going seven rounds in the ring at Madison Square Garden in New York City to become the first ever Mexican-American heavyweight champion of the world. Ruiz Jr. (33-1) was a heavy underdog (+1100) heading into the match-up with Joshua (22-1) but ultimately flipped the script to hand the British fighter his first professional loss ever. Surely the fight will go down as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

Some members of the media and fans have been quick to label the fight as a 'fluke' and 'rigged' which in the end is no surprise to me. That always happens in the sports world. Many did not believe we would get this result yet failed to remember the one rule of sports -- expect the unexpected. Over the past week, I've been coming to the defense of Ruiz Jr. in the wake of others choosing to call him a joke.

I was shocked and surprised to hear two of my favorite sports analysts, Stephen A. Smith and Shannon Sharpe, make fun of Ruiz Jr. and frame him as just a guy that looked like 'Butterbean.' When I viewed their tweets on social media it honestly made me upset. Sure, Ruiz Jr. may not have fit the mold of what a professional boxer should look like, but they simply should not have just judged a book by its cover.

Personally, I thought it was disrespectful for Smith and Sharpe to throw shade at Ruiz Jr. in the way they did. I felt like they should have done a better job of acknowledging the winner considering the result of the match. Yet choosing to bash someone because of their physical composition appeared like a low blow. The very foundation of sports allows people of all shapes, sizes, genders, races, and backgrounds to compete -- that's why most people follow them in the first place.

Smith was open behind his reasoning for his tweets in which I'd like to shed some light on. Smith was upset about how boxing time after time contains elements of corruption with fans having to wait years until promoters schedule big fights. He along with other followers of the sport were looking forward to the highly anticipated yet potential future match-up between Joshua and fellow heavyweight Deontay Wilder. Smith believes that by Ruiz Jr. beating Joshua it essentially diminished the chances of that fight ever happening with the same amount of buildup, but that still doesn't provide any excuse for mocking the new heavyweight champ.

Ruiz Jr. was there for a reason and ultimately seized the opportunity that was right in front of him -- that's not his fault for getting the job done. Just because someone doesn't look like the part doesn't mean they don't possess the same qualities and characteristics as their counterparts. The following pair of videos display the amount of talent Ruiz Jr. does have in the ring. Even fellow boxer Canelo Alvarez and former UFC lightweight/featherweight champion Conor McGregor acknowledge that and have come out to say something on their behalf.

Unfortunately, I don't expect much to change because most will stand their ground and continue to behave the same way. All I'm saying is I did not enjoy some of the top figures within sports media stereotyping Ruiz Jr. based on his looks. I would think that we would be better than that and recognize that anyone can accomplish something great in this world. It all just starts with a simple dream.

I understand and respect other people's takes on this subject, maybe I'm looking into things deeper than what they are, but it struck a chord with me and I felt the need to say something about it.

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