For more than a century, the Olympic rings have symbolized one of the world’s most prestigious athletic competitions.
In the 21st century, red, blue and green “Agitos” – three fanned-out crescents – have represented the Paralympic Games.
And now, Fort Wayne can display both symbols together. Turnstone, the home training facility for the men’s and women’s goalball teams, showed off its new U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site banner, which incorporates both symbols in recognition of the organization’s name change to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee.
“It means a lot to me as an athlete to see the two organizations coming together, the two groups of athletes coming together,” said veteran women’s goalball team member Lisa Czechowski, 42, who is preparing for her sixth Paralympic Games. “In my first Paralympic Games in 2000, the Olympic and Paralympic delegations, they were very different. We were all working toward the same goals and achieving the same things, but to see the progression of the Paralympic movement and to see the two organizations come together, it really is amazing and it’s wonderful to see. It’s great to see the support that we’re all getting as Olympic and Paralympic athletes.”
As part of the celebration Wednesday morning, Molly Quinn, the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes CEO, introduced the U.S. men’s and women’s goalball teams for the upcoming Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Goalball is a sport designed specifically for vision-impaired athletes. It features three athletes per team on the court at a time. The athletes attempt to score goals with a weighted ball with a bell inside to alert the athletes to its location.
Czechowski, who trains at Turnstone full time, is one of six women named to the team, along with rookie Mindy Cook, Amanda Dennis, Marybai Huking, Eliana Mason and Asya Miller. Czechowski has won gold, silver and bronze medals in goalball. She also took the silver medal in the discus at the 2000 Sydney Games.
The men’s team includes John Kusku, Tyler Merren, Matt Simpson, Daryl Walker, Calahan Young and rookie Zach Buhler, who hails from Huntington.
Buhler has been playing goalball since 2016, when he picked up the game by visiting Turnstone.
“I found out about it five years ago, right when the residency program was starting for goalball. It was just me coming up on Wednesday nights doing the community program with Team USA as they were training for Rio. It was just me coming up for a couple weeks at a time, staying with the team, training with the team, getting whupped by the team, honestly,” Buhler said.
“It still feels very surreal, to be honest. It hasn’t settled in that I’m one of the top six in the U.S. I still get whupped sometimes! But it’s really cool, and I’m really blessed and honored to be selected.”
The year delay of the Paralympics because of the pandemic gave Buhler another year to perfect his game – and recover from surgery.
“A year ago, I had a really bad knee injury, and I didn’t get surgery until October. With that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to go,” he said. “So it was really nice to have it be pushed back, and work my way back to getting ready. Being ready to go by January was something I didn’t think I’d be able to do, but I ended up being able to pull it off.
“It shows the hard work that I can put in that I didn’t even know I was capable of.”