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T Q&A

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Lisa Banta is a visually impaired athlete who recently returned with a bronze medal from the World Goalball Championships in South Carolina. Two teams play goalball; the ball itself, which contains bells, is rolled bowling-style back and forth in an attempt to score points by making it past defenders and into a goal, much like in soccer. Banta has been honing her skill in the sport for years, and she was on the team that won a silver medal in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens. She also works at the Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired, helping people get the skills they need to live independent lives.

How did you get into goalball?

This (adaptive recreation teacher) came out (to my high school in New Jersey), and he kind of gave me a goalball, which is a basketball-sized ball--pretty thick--and it's got some bells in it. And he was like, "Hey, instead of going to phys ed, let's just introduce you to a couple of adaptive sports." So he put it in my hand and was like, "Roll it to me." And I said, "OK." And he kind of started explaining it to me. ... I was pretty passive about it. By this time, I had been doing (track and) field for more than a year. I became a thrower--discus, shot put. I was pretty natural at it, honestly. My freshman year was awesome in spring track (and) field. So I was kind of getting a little bit arrogant, you know--a little bit cocky. I was like, "OK, I'm in the able-bodied sports. Blind sports: whatever." I really wanted nothing to do with them.

When did that change?

I had a successful sophomore year in track. I didn't volunteer to go on this trip with the Blind Athletes of New Jersey to compete in track and field. I hadn't really gotten anything clear; I just kind of said, "Yeah, yeah--I'll go," (but) I had to pull out of that trip, so I felt bad. When they called me up again in the fall of my junior year, I was like, "All right, all right. I'll go to your goalball practice." But I said, "Can I do track and field, too?" And they were like, "Yeah." I said OK, and I kind of gave in. I went to a goalball practice in Jersey, and I fell in love with it. It totally changed my outlook on what blind sports are. I was making a judgment on stuff I didn't know. ... I thought blind sports were stepping down instead of stepping up. But, you know, when I went to this first practice, there were 10 or 15 athletes there who were visually impaired or blind, and, you know, didn't look like it. Some looked like me, walking every day, and no one ever knew until I had to read something. And some were totally blind. Some were in school; some had full-time jobs; some were lawyers--you know, you name it. That really opened my eyes to blind sports and goalball and how I had just totally passed the wrong judgment.

You were a part of the goalball team that came in sixth at the 2000 Paralympics in Sydney and second in the 2004 games in Athens. What was that experience like?

It was awesome. Sydney was my first Paralympics. And that will stand out as the most shocking, you know, in a good way. Walking into the stadium that they used in Sydney was awesome. It was huge, and the United States is the center of attention. ... That feeling that, wow, everyone's eyes are on you--it was just pretty cool. And you're representing your country. There's a lot there. ... I was a multi-sport athlete there (in Sydney): I did track and field, and I did goalball. I was able to take silver in my class in the discus. ... Sydney was an interesting experience; I got to experience both sides of the games: the success and the--I don't like to use failure.

The "not medaling?"

Yeah, being out of the medals. The success and being out of the medals--the falling short.

Where are your medals?

One's in Jersey, and one's here. They're in the medal boxes they came in, because they're so precious.

I bet.

I like people to hold it and kind of get a feeling of it. The response I get from a lot of people is that they've never been this close to an Olympic or Paralympic medal. I'm like, "Cool. Well, here, hold on to it. Know what it feels like. Know the power that's in that medal, the passion that's in that medal." You know, if you have an opportunity to do something in your life, you can see this, and maybe it'll inspire you to do something.

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