Matt Simpson stepped onto a Rio de Janeiro Paralympic court in 2016 with a mixture of pride and adrenaline, honored to wear a national team jersey, and buoyed by the cheers of 10,000 people settling into the stands.
Those fans had come to watch Matt and the rest of Team USA go for gold. To leave it all on the court. To play heads-up defense and lights-out offense.
They had come to see Matt play goalball.
—Excuse me, but what the hell is goalball?—
Matt gets that a lot. He really doesn’t mind.
“I tell people it’s kind of like a mix between reverse volleyball and reverse dodgeball. You have a volley back and forth, but instead of hitting over a net, you’re throwing it on the ground. And then instead of getting out of the way of the ball, you’re getting in front of it,” he explained.
Oh, and one more thing. The players are blind. And if not completely blind, they’re blindfolded. They only know where the ball is going by the sound of two bells tinkling in its core, and by the feeling of its cutting path across the court.
If that game sounds placid or easy, think again. The ball is a three pound rubber sphere, and it gets thrown fast — upwards of 50 miles per hour at elite levels. And just 50 feet from where it’s pitched, players dive across court to stop the ball’s path with their bodies. Then they hop up and whip the ball toward the other team’s goal. Each team might have 100 possessions in a 24-minute match.
Goalball is intense.
“When you realize just how hard that ball is and just how fast it’s going…it is an extremely physical sport. It’s a rough game, for sure,” Simpson told The Pillar.
Goalball is also the only sport in the Paralympics which began with disabled people — not as an adapted version of something else, like wheelchair basketball or sitting volleyball, but as its own thing, developed for blind people, and tailored to the experience of living without sight.
Read more at The Pillar