Read the original story in The Oregonian here.
A Portland State University employee is headed to London to vie for the gold on the international stage -- at the 2012 Paralympic Games.
Jen Armbruster, 37, is scheduled to leave Aug. 18 to compete for the U.S. Paralympics women's goalball team. The games, a competition for people with physical disabilities, are being held Aug. 29 to Sept. 9, after the Olympics conclude. There will be a sendoff party Aug. 14 at the university.
Armbruster lost part of her eyesight when she was 14 and all of it when she was 17. Since, she has won three Paralympic medals. Her team took the gold medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. And in the International Blind Sports Association World Championships, her team has brought home four medals, earning gold in 2002.
Armbruster, who was inducted into the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame last year, had been living in Birmingham, Ala., when a job as inclusive recreation and community service coordinator at PSU brought her and her family to Oregon almost two years ago. She formed the state goalball team, the Rose City Thorns.
She recently sat down for a question-and-answer session. Her answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I was a military kid, so I was born in Taiwan, and then we lived in Italy and Germany. I lived stateside in Illinois at Scott Air Force Base and then Colorado.
A: I played multiple sports during high school. I still played competitive basketball all the way until the day I went (totally blind).
Q: What happened to cause the blindness?
A: It was an inflammation of the optic nerve, and that cut off the blood flow to the nerve, so the nerve died off, but they don't know the cause of the inflammation.
Q: What is goalball?
A: It's basically a three-pound medicine ball with bells in it. It doesn't have air pressure, so it doesn't bounce. It's a three-on-three game that everyone plays blindfolded. The ball goes 35 mph. The court is 9-by-18 meters. Defensively, you play like a soccer goalie; you use your body to block it. Offensively, (you throw it) underhand or sidearm.
Q: You mentioned a surgery. What surgery?
A: I've had a few surgeries on my right shoulder to reattach all of the ligaments. I had my first surgery in '01, and my second surgery was in '05.
A: I don't think it affects me too much. I'm in constant pain, and my arm doesn't extend all the way. It's made me finesse the game a little because I had to come up with new shots to be more effective.
Q: How did you get involved in the Paralympics?
A: Lynn Fleharty from the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind found me. He said: Want to try a competitive sport? And introduced me to goalball. I didn't have a team or anything.
My dad (Ken Armbruster) decided we could put a team together, and so he started recruiting, and he put a Colorado team together, and we came in second in (U.S. Association of Blind Athletes Goalball Nationals) in 1990. At the tournament, I was 17 when I got selected to try out for the U.S. team, participating in the Paralympics in Barcelona in 1992.
Q: What do you need to do to qualify for the Paralympics?
A: We got a spot by finishing in the top three in the World Championships for goalball (in 2010). As far as team selection, the country's always looking and scouting talent. We have trials on and off the court.
Q: What is the most challenging thing about being blind?
A: I'd say before moving to Portland it was transportation. Portland public transportation is really good.
I have a 1-year-old son, and I wish I could see him. In my mind I have a picture of him, but what parent wouldn't want to see their child? I didn't get to see him take that first step. I was there when he took it, but I couldn't see it.
Q: What did you learn when you lost your eyesight?
A: You learn to appreciate things a little bit more. Your empathy with other people is stronger.
Q: What would you like to tell other blind people to encourage them, especially children?
A: You can have a job. You can have a family, and it's going to be OK.
-- Jillian Daley