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Saturday, Jun. 24, 2017
Meghan Mahon named to Paralympic Goalball team
2016-06-10
by Randy Pascal

The Sudbury region may or may not have athlete representation in the upcoming Summer Olympic Games in Brazil – distance runner Ross Proudfoot is still trying to shave four seconds off his personal best time of 13:29 in the 5000 metre race – but rest assured that all is not lost.

There will be a Sudbury connection, of sorts, once the Brazil Paralympics roll around in mid-September. That much was assured a few weeks back, when long-time Timmins native Meghan Mahon was named to the Canadian Women’s Goalball team, the official paralympic sport for the blind and visually impaired.

The 20 year-old athlete has called the Nickel City home since last July, having just completed her first year of studies at Cambrian College, pursuing a career as a Child and Youth Care practitioner.

Born with achromatopsia, a cone-rod retinal dystrophy condition that leaves her with 20/200 vision (or roughly 10% vision), Mahon just hits the standard of “legally blind” in Canada, insistent on living a full and normal life, right from the outset.

“I was very active growing up in a small community. I could not sit still as a kid,” she said. “I was able to go anywhere, everyone knew who I was. Having the visual impairment, the awareness was out there.”

Born with a genetic condition, Mahon had no relative framework to understand 20/20 vision, leading her to naturally follow in much the same path as her fully sighted friends – to a point. “I was very involved in sighted sports as a kid – hockey, dance, curling, gymnastics, karate, all the fun things.”

“Timbits hockey was easy enough, we would all just chase the puck,” she said with a smile. “By age eight, the game was getting quicker, harder to follow.” But while some doors were about to close, others were soon to open.

“I started with track and field in grades seven and eight,” Mahon recalled. “Just put me on the track and I can run. When I hit high school, I discovered the blind events in OFSAA.” She remains the current 800m visually impaired record holder (2:51), after taking part in the provincial championships for the first time in 2011, when the event was hosted in Sudbury.

“In grade 11, I went for a trial week at W. Ross MacDonald School (for the Blind) in Brantford, where I decided to spend my grade 12 year,” said Mahon. “That was where I was introduced to goalball.”

With her natural athletic background, Mahon took quickly to the sport, to say the least, after she and a friend attended one of the goalball practices at the school during her trial week. She was invited to participate in the junior national championships being hosted on site, this despite only playing the sport for two weeks, with her team winning bronze.

First created in the late 1940s as a form of rehabilitation for veterans returning from war with visual impairments, goalball has garnered a world-wide following as a primary team sport for the blind.

“It’s kind of a mixture of dodgeball, or perhaps the opposite of dodgeball, and high intensity bowling,” laughs Mahon. Played on a court roughly the size of an indoor volleyball terrain, a game of goalball pits two teams of three players, attempting to roll a ball that is slightly bigger than a basketball, into a nine metre wide net at the other end of the court, all while completely blindfolded opponents attempt to throw themselves in the path of said ball.

“The floor is taped, with string under the tape, so that you can feel where you are on the court,” explained Mahon. “Everyone plays totally blindfolded, so that it’s an equal playing field. One ball is in play, with three bells inside the ball for sound, and eight holes in the ball to help project the sound.”

And when Mahon says players “throw” themselves at the ball, she means exactly that. “People have concussed themselves, getting kicked by their own teammates in the back of the head. Players are diving across the court.”

“For some reason, I enjoy throwing myself in front of this ball,” Mahon continued. “It beats me up every time. I come home after practice, black and blue, and wonder why I do this. But I love it.”

Spectators on hand must remain completely silent, so that players are able to hear the ball (now there’s a rule that might garner a great deal of support, mostly with referees and such, with countless other youth oriented sports in our country!).

And though she had worked her way into the national pool of talent this spring, Mahon admitted that the invitation to Brazil has certainly caught her by surprise. “Honestly, I was aiming for 2020 in Tokyo,” she said. “Rio de Janeiro was out of my thoughts. There are some great players in this country, much more experienced.”

Unfortunately, cracking the roster somewhat unexpectedly has also created some challenges. “I’m one of the very few athletes who is not nationally carded,” she stated. “I did not enter the pool until May 1st, which left me too late to be funded.”

While the Canadian Paralympic Committee covers air travel to South America, and accommodations and meals are accounted for with the athlete’s village through the host city, there remain several expenses to be juggled with her full-time studies at Cambrian.

“Right now, all of my training costs come out of my pocket,” she noted. “I’m seeing a personal trainer three times a week. We’re working on a lot of fast movements, fast feet, ladder work, and a lot of up and down movements – and then just cardio.”

Mahon is also travelling to Ottawa, on her own dime, at least a couple of times a month, as the four Ontario athletes named to the team gather for pre-event preparation, looking to medal for a sixth time, as ten countries gather for the competition.

Anyone interested in providing some support for Meghan Mahon is welcome to contact her, via email, at m.mahon.21@hotmail.com

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